RIO GRANDE CITY, Texas (ValleyCentral) — A teen driver has been charged with murder and a 14-year-old passenger who was not wearing a safety belt was ejected from a car and killed Sunday morning, according to state officials.

The driver in the single-car crash was identified as Hugo Ernest Rivera, 17, of Rio Grande City, who was arrested and charged with murder, DWI with a minor, and failure to stop and render aid, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The crash happened at approximately 8:53 a.m. Sunday on FM 755, north of Orchard in Rio Grande City.

According to Texas DPS’ preliminary investigation, Rivera was driving a 2006 Chrysler 300 with a single passenger, who was identified as Fermin Estudillo, 14, of Rio Grande City. They were traveling northbound on FM 755 “when the driver lost control of the vehicle and rolled over,” DPS stated.

Estudillo was not wearing his safety belt and was ejected and died at the scene, DPS stated.

Rivera fled the scene but was apprehended, DPS stated.

Troopers are further investigating this fatal crash.

Importance of seat belts

In 2021, the number of people who died while not wearing a seat belt increased by 14% over 2020, with 1,226 unbuckled drivers and passengers killed on Texas roadways, DPS told ValleyCentral on Sunday.

According to DPS, wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of dying by 45% for people in the front seat of passenger cars. For those in pickups, seat belts reduce the risk of dying by 60%.

“Your seat belt is designed to keep you from being thrown into the dashboard or windshield or even onto the road,” DPS stated. “You may think your airbag is going to protect you, but it’s designed to work with seat belts, not to replace them.”

Texas law requires everyone in a vehicle to buckle up or face fines up to $200.

“Children younger than 8 years must be in a child safety seat or booster seat unless they’re taller than four feet nine inches,” DPS stated. “If they aren’t properly restrained, the driver faces fines up to $250.”