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Train Crew to Escape Prosecution in Maiming

September 23, 1987|DAN MORAIN and MARK A. STEIN | Times Staff Writers

MARTINEZ, Calif. — Contra Costa Dist. Atty. Gary T. Yancey said Tuesday he will not prosecute the crew of the munitions train that severed a man's legs during an anti-war protest earlier this month at the Concord Naval Weapons Station.

"There is no evidence that the train crew intended to hit or run over any of the protesters," he said. The decision, he added, came after a "lengthy, in-depth investigation" by the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Department.

In the Sept. 1 incident, documented in shocking detail by one protester's home video camera, a whistle-blowing ammunition train ran through a group of people blocking the tracks between two sections of the sprawling Navy weapons storage yard.

The train hit several protesters, critically injuring S. Brian Willson, a 46-year-old Vietnam veteran and full-time peace activist. Willson's skull was fractured and both legs were severed below the knees.

The demonstrators said they were protesting American involvement in Central America.

Will Not Press Charges

Yancey said that he will not seek to file charges against Willson or any of the other demonstrators "due to the severe injuries and resultant emotional trauma to Brian Willson and his two fellow protesters."

Willson's lawyer, Doran Weinberg of San Francisco, dismissed the district attorney's decision as an "attempt to whitewash the incident," adding that "we take no comfort from the D.A.'s statement that none of the demonstrators will be prosecuted for doing only what is their constitutional right."

Weinberg is preparing a civil lawsuit against the Navy.

Yancey said investigators had talked to more than 70 people--including the train crew, demonstrators, reporters and Marine guards--while trying to determine who, if anyone, was at fault in the bloody confrontation.

He concluded the train crew had an "obscured view" of the area where the protesters were waiting--a grade crossing where a public highway bisects the otherwise heavily guarded ammunition yard.

Radios Add to Confusion

He added that weapons station workers had had their radios tuned to different frequencies, and therefore could not warn one another of the protesters' presence.

In addition, Yancey said the train driver never knew about the people on the track because he was blowing the train's whistle at the same instant that each of the two observers on the front of the train were using their radios to warn him. In fact, he added, one of the observers had to run back the length of the engine to shout at him to stop the train after the train had struck Willson.

He also said the protesters had neglected to give the Navy adequate advance notice of their intention to symbolically block the track on that day, even though similar protests had been occurring at that spot for several months. The protests also have continued since the incident at the same site.

Yancey said protest organizers informed the Navy of their protest that day at 11:50 a.m., just a few minutes before the train was scheduled to move and not soon enough for Navy officials to call in Contra Costa County sheriff's deputies to clear the tracks.

General Orders Cited

The prosecutor also noted that the civilian train crew was operating under "general orders not to stop the train if protesters attempted to climb onto the engine or cars." No one has alleged such activity by the demonstrators.

At the time of the incident, authorities said the train was moving only at 5 m.p.h., but the FBI has confirmed an observation by Willson's wife, Holly Rauen, that it was moving at closer to 16 m.p.h.

"There is no room to doubt the Navy knew demonstrators were on the tracks and that the Navy must have known that starting a train down those tracks at the speed it was traveling would jeopardize human life," Weinberg's statement said.

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