A teenager has been charged with murder after a 14-year-old was thrown from a car in the city of Rio Grande.

RIO GRANDE CITY, Texas (ValleyCentral) — A teenage driver was charged with murder and a 14-year-old passenger who was not wearing a seatbelt was thrown from his vehicle and killed Sunday morning, state officials said.

Officials said 17-year-old Hugo Ernest Rivera from the city of Rio Grande was identified as the driver in the single-vehicle crash. According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, he was arrested and charged with murder, drunk driving with a minor, and failure to stop and provide assistance.

The accident occurred at approximately 8:53 am on Sunday at FM 755 radio station north of Orchard in the Rio Grande.

According to a preliminary Texas DPS investigation, Rivera was driving a 2006 Chrysler 300 with one passenger, who was identified as 14-year-old Fermin Estudillo. They were driving north on FM 755 “when the driver lost control of the vehicle and overturned.” DPS said.

Fermin, from Rio Grande, was not wearing a seat belt, was ejected and died from his injuries at the scene, DPS said.

Hugo fled the scene but was detained, DPS said.

The traffic police are still investigating the crash.

Importance of seat belts

In 2021, the number of people who died while not wearing a seatbelt increased by 14% compared to 2020, with 1,226 unbelted drivers and passengers killed on Texas roads, ValleyCentral DPS reported Sunday.

According to the DPS, wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of death by 45% for people in the front seat of cars. For passengers in pickup trucks, seat belts reduce the risk of death by 60%.

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

Texas law requires everyone in a vehicle to wear a seatbelt or face a fine of up to $200.

“Children under the age of 8 must be in a child safety seat or booster seat unless they are over four feet nine,” the DPS said. “If they are not properly secured, the driver faces a fine of up to $250.”

(KXAN contributed to this report)

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