Absolute Tragedy - Odessa American: Law Enforcement

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Absolute Tragedy

At least 4 killed, 16 injured after train strikes veterans parade float

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Posted: Thursday, November 15, 2012 10:30 pm | Updated: 10:12 pm, Tue Feb 26, 2013.

MIDLAND Grisly horror overtook a parade meant to celebrate veterans when a train in Midland crashed into a float, killing at least four people and wounding another 16.

The float, a flat-bed truck with chairs on top, carried 26 people: 12 veterans, 12 spouses and two civilian escorts. The wreck happened at 4:36 p.m., scattering victims near the intersection of West Industrial Avenue and South Garfield Street, authorities said.

The circumstances of the wreck remained unclear, and the investigation is ongoing.

“There were some that were able to make it off the flatbed before the train struck. Others weren’t so fortunate,” City of Midland representative Tina Jauz said. According to the city tally, six escaped the truck uninjured. The first float that was in front of the trailer that got struck had already made it across the tracks.

Two people died at the scene and another two were pronounced dead at Midland Memorial Hospital, according to Midland Police Chief Price Robinson. By 9:30 p.m. Thursday, one person remained in critical condition at the hospital and another had been transported by helicopter to University Medical Center in Lubbock. Four people were in stable condition by late evening.

The tragedy shocked the Permian Basin community and left the surviving “Hunt for Heroes” parade participants grieving with their loved ones in Midland’s Hilton Hotel.  The parade, led by the group Show of Support, was supposed to end with a banquet at Midland County Horseshoe Arena. But instead, people huddled together on the second floor of the Hilton and discussed notifying family, cried and hugged. Most people mourned in another room.

Down the stairs, parade participant Michael Morris consoled someone on the phone and grieved himself. A good friend died in the wreck, he said.  

“I’ve been through five combat tours, and this is worse than probably, getting blown up” Morris said. He declined to speak further.  

Hunt for Heroes Board Directors said they were planning flights to and from the area for loved ones. A Midland Crisis Intervention official was on scene.

Late in the night, the Midland Police Department was the lead investigating agency, while Union Pacific had sent support staff to the site of the accident. Multiple agencies responded after the wreck, and Midland Fire Marshal Jeff Meiner said they sent every available unit. Police officers blocked off several streets surrounding the wreck.

In the preliminary investigation by the railroad company, spokesman Tom Lange said eyewitness reports confirm that the lights and gates were functional at the crossing. Some witnesses gave contradictory accounts.

Lange said a recording device similar to a black box on an airplane, which records specific performances by the train, can be recovered after an accident and used to determine for sure whether those processes were working.

“We will have a variety of operations people there to help with a thorough investigation,” Lange said.

It was unclear whether Union Pacific knew in advance of the parade. Lange didn’t know if the train crew saw the float approaching. And Lange said Thursday night he could no longer comment because the National Transportation Safety Board was investigating.

Citizens lined up to donate blood. Public officials offered support.

Midland Mayor Wes Perry said he’d attended the parade earlier, had lunch with participants, shook veterans’ hands and met their spouses. State Senator Kel Seligar was there too.

“I am enormously saddened by the news of this unspeakable tragedy. The hearts of everyone in the Permian Basin, and across the country, go out to these individuals who have served their country so well. The state of Texas is prepared to provide whatever help and support Midland County needs,” Seligar said in a statement.

An 11-year-old boy named Servando Wislar said he was watching the parade with his little brother and sister, while his parents cooked burgers at their home, a block away from the site of the crash.

“I saw the things [railroad crossings] come down until they hit some persons then they went back up,” Wislar said.   Then, Sevando said, he heard a big crash.

“People were stuck up on the windshield and it was nasty. My little brother was crying and my little sister almost was crying,” he said. “It was sad because there were some people, some girls ran off. There were also people under the train. I just heard people like screaming.”

  OA staff writers Gabriella Lopez and Jon Vanderlaan contributed to this report. 

>> 2 people died at the scene.

>> 18 people were transported to Midland Memorial Hospital.

>> 2 people were pronounced dead at the hospital.

>> 1 person was transported by helicopter to University Medical Center in Lubbock.

>> 1 person remained at the Midland Hospital in critical condition late Thursday night.

>> 4 people remained at the hospital in stable condition. 


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