BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - Three relatives of Pope Francis died and a fourth was in serious condition Tuesday after their car crashed on a provincial highway in Argentina, the Vatican and local officials said.
The small car carrying a nephew of the pope along with the man's wife and two young children slammed into the back of a truck, Highway Police Superintendent Jorge Raineri said. The crash killed the wife and children, one 2 years old and the other 8 months.
The passenger side of the car was smashed and crumpled beneath the cargo truck.
Emanuel Bergoglio, the 38-year-old son of a brother of Pope Francis, was hospitalized. He suffered extensive injuries and was in serious condition in the hours after the pre-dawn crash, Ignacio Bruno, an assistant director of the hospital in the town of Villa Maria, told Todo Noticias television.
The man's 36-year-old wife, Valeria Carmona, and youngest child, Jose, died in the accident. Two-year-old Antonio died at the hospital, Bruno said.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said: "The pope was informed about the tragic accident. He is profoundly saddened." He added that the pope asks "all who share in his grief to unite with him in prayer."
Carmona was a social worker who specialized in assisting police in helping victims of domestic violence, said Horacio Alberto Gimenez, chief of the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Police. Her husband, the son of the pope's late brother Alberto, is a medical examiner.
The accident occurred between the cities of Rosario and Cordoba, apparently as the family was returning to Buenos Aires after a holiday weekend. The driver of the truck was not injured.
The pope's nephew underwent surgery and would be closely monitored over the next 48 hours to evaluate the next steps, the director of the hospital, Francisco Fortuna, told Radio Continental
"He has made good post-operative progress and the hemorrhage, which was the reason for the surgical intervention, has been contained," Fortuna said.
The tragic accident came as the pope has been reflecting on his mortality.
Flying back to Rome on Monday from a visit to South Korea, the 77-year-old pontiff told reporters that he expects to live for only two or three more years.
Then, he said, "I'll be off to the father's house."
Francis also said he would consider retiring - as his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI did - if he felt he couldn't perform his duties.