EMT learns daughter died in car crash with country singer after arriving to scene

Maria Elena Cruz, 16, was driving a Jeep in New Mexico when authorities say country singer Kylie Rae Harris caused the fatal crash.

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/ Source: TODAY
By Alyssa Newcomb and Scott Stump

A deputy fire chief who was on the scene of a fatal three-car crash in New Mexico involving country singer Kylie Rae Harris last week was unaware that his teen daughter was one of the victims until he arrived.

Pedro Cruz, the deputy chief of the San Cristobal Volunteer Fire Department, drove up to the scene in Taos on Sept. 4 not knowing that his daughter, Maria Elena Cruz, 16, had been killed in the crash along with Harris, Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe told local station KRQE.

"He’s also an EMT, so he’s no stranger to going out on calls both medical, crashes and other things, but very traumatic for him to not know but to respond anyway and then find it was his family member," Hogrefe said.

Pedro Cruz was not acting in a first responder capacity at the time, Taos County Fire Chief Mike Cordova told NBC News.

The crash remains under investigation, but Hogrefe told NBC News in a statement Saturday that "Miss Cruz was an innocent victim of this senseless crash caused by Ms. Harris."

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Harris was traveling on State Road 522 when she struck a vehicle from behind, sending her into oncoming traffic, where she collided head-on with a Jeep driven by Cruz, according to the Taos County Sheriff's Office. The third driver was uninjured, The Associated Press reported.

Hogrefe said investigators suspect speed and alcohol may have been factors in the crash. Investigators are awaiting the toxicology report.

Harris had a 2017 DWI conviction in Texas and had been court-ordered to install an ignition interlock device on her vehicle.

Cruz was a junior honor student at Taos High School, where students and faculty joined her family in mourning her loss.

"She was one of the loves of her parents' life," Cordova, the Taos County fire chief, told TODAY on Sunday. "They have two daughters. Maria Elena was a great daughter, always willing to help people. She had aspirations to either become a lawyer or involved with police enforcement.

"That was cut short due to this tragic accident, but this family will remember her for the kind, loving, caring and wonderful person that she was."

Harris, 30, whose songs included "Twenty Years From Now," was scheduled to play a music festival in Taos, New Mexico, last week.

"Everyone that knew Kylie knew how much she loved her family and, beyond that, how much she loved music,'' her manager said Sept. 5 in a statement to TODAY. "The best tribute to her unmatched enthusiasm for both is to spread as much love as you can today, and listen to music that fully inspires you."

Earlier on the day of the crash, the Texas-based singer shared an update from her road trip to talk about the special memories that came flooding back as she drove through northern New Mexico.

Harris leaves behind a 6-year-old daughter, who was the inspiration for "Twenty Years From Now," a song in which she sings about her hope that her daughter will forgive her for her mistakes and that she'll still be around 20 years from now.