Parade participants react after a trailer carrying wounded veterans in a parade was struck by a train in Midland, Texas on Nov. 15.(Photo: James Durbin, AP)
MIDLAND, Texas -- Wounded U.S. military veterans leapt for their
lives just before a freight train struck their parade in rural Texas,
killing four people and injuring 17, and federal officials rushed to the
scene Friday to piece together why it happened.
About two dozen
veterans and their spouses had been sitting in chairs on the parade
float, set up on the back of a flatbed truck decorated with American
flags. Many seemed to panic as the train's horn sounded, said Patricia
Howle, who was waiting in her car at a nearby traffic light.
was on the phone, and I just started screaming," she told The Associated
Press after Thursday afternoon's crash. "The truck was on the other
side of the train, but I did see the panic on the faces of the people
and saw some of them jump off."
Police said the first truck with
veterans safely crossed the tracks, but the second truck's trailer was
still on the crossing as the Union Pacific locomotive approached.
The U.S. marked Veterans Day earlier this week, and the parade was part of an event to honor wounded veterans.
preliminary investigation indicates the crossing gate and lights were
working, said Union Pacific spokesman Tom Lange, though he didn't know
if the train crew saw the float approaching.
"There is going to be
a very thorough investigation," Lange said. "It's obviously a very
tragic incident." He said the train crew did not sustain any injuries
but would be offered counseling.
Two people died at the scene,
while two others died at Midland Memorial Hospital, City of Midland
spokesman Ryan Stout said. Six people remained hospitalized Thursday
night, including at least one in critical condition. The other 11
injured were treated and released, hospital officials said.
was a horrible accident to watch happen right in front of me," said
Daniel Quinonez, who was in traffic that had been stopped to allow the
parade to pass. "I just saw the people on the semi-truck's trailer
panic, and many started to jump off the trailer. But it was too late for
many of them because the train impacted the trailer so fast," he said.
events were organized by Show Of Support, a local veterans group. Its
president, Terry Johnson, did not immediately return an email for
comment and his phone number was unlisted. The phone rang unanswered at
the group's offices.
The veterans were going to be treated to a deer-hunting trip this weekend. The event was canceled.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating, NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said.
of Defense Leon Panetta "was deeply saddened by news of the tragic
accident involving veterans heroes and their spouses in Midland,"
Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement.