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Navy Train Was Speeding When It Hit Protester, Probers Told

November 19, 1987|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A Navy train carrying ammunition was going more than double and possibly triple the 5-m.p.h. speed limit when it struck and maimed an anti-war protester in Northern California, a Navy captain testified Wednesday.

"The train was traveling between 12 and 16 m.p.h. when it struck Mr. (S. Brian) Willson" at the Concord Naval Weapons Station, Capt. Stanley J. Pryzby told the House armed services subcommittee on investigations.

The speed limit is 5 m.p.h. at the highway crossing where the accident occurred Sept. 1, he said.

Legs Amputated

The accident caused the amputations of both Willson's legs as well as a fractured skull and multiple scrapes and bruises, Pryzby said.

He said his investigation concluded that three different parties were at fault: the protesters, for failing to vacate the tracks in the face of an oncoming Navy train; local law enforcement officers, who were not present even though the accident occurred outside of Navy property, and personnel of the weapons station, who failed to take adequate precautions.

Pryzby noted that a nonviolent protest group had been staging demonstrations at the station since June 10 and that Willson had sent a letter to the station's commanding officer Aug. 21 saying the protesters would change their tactics starting Sept. 1.

Willson, 46, wrote that the new actions "will include persons placing their bodies on the tracks and roadway, asking you and those moving the munitions to stop their movement," and that he would begin a 40-day fast during which he would be on the tracks "for part of each of the 40 days."

Pryzby testified that "Navy procedures at Weapons Station Concord should have been adequate to prevent this accident. Procedures were informal and not fully executed. Communications were fragmented. Training of key personnel, particularly the train crew relative to the 5 m.p.h. speed limit at crossings, was deficient. . . .

"This accident should not have occurred. In the final analysis, both the command and the demonstrators had the wherewithal to avoid this tragic accident."

But Doron Weinberg, one of Willson's San Francisco-based attorneys, said he believed it was more than an accident.

"There had to be some intentionality here," Weinberg said during a break in the hearing. "It didn't just happen that these people tripled the normal speed for this particular trip. Why wasn't the emergency braking system applied?"

Weinberg said he believed that the Navy gave the go-ahead for the train's movement despite the absence of local law enforcement officials, and the train moved at high speed "to scare the demonstrators off the tracks. They were thinking, 'Run the train at them and we'll get rid of them.' "

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