The largely German-speaking autonomous region of northern Italy, with its ski resorts in the Dolomites and quaint villages around Bolzano, is popular with German tourists.
“The new year begins with a terrible tragedy,” said the regional president of Alto Adige, Arno Kompatscher. “We are left stunned.”
He said the crash was not an act of terrorism.
“They were torn from their lives by the actions of someone speeding under the influence of alcohol,” said Armin Laschet, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, the German state that is home to most of the victims.
The Lutago volunteer fire service said on Facebook that six people were killed at the scene. The 11 injured, four of whom were in critical condition, were taken to several regional hospitals, including two who were airlifted to a hospital in Innsbruck, Austria, said Bolzano Carabinieri Commander Alessandro Coassin.
Coassin said the driver, identified by Italian media as a 28-year-old man from the nearby town of Chienes, was arrested on suspicion of highway manslaughter and injury and was being treated at the hospital in Brunico.
Most of the victims hailed from western Germany, though two of the injured were Italian, officials said.
“These young people wanted to spend a good time together and were torn out of their lives or seriously injured from one second to the next,” Laschet said.
“It was a single group … but not everyone knew each other,” he said.
In all, 160 rescue workers and emergency medical personnel responded to the crash, which “looked like a battlefield,” according to Helmut Abfalterer, of the Lutago volunteer fire service.
Mourners later left candles and flowers at the crash scene, which was located along a two-lane road dotted by hotels and piles of snow in the mountainous region.
Kompatscher told a press conference the victims were part of a group of Germans on vacation. He expressed his condolences to their families and declined to provide further details pending notification to their loved ones.
The accident occurred on the final long weekend of the Christmas and New Year’s holiday in Italy.