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100 Hurt as Saboteurs Derail Amtrak Train; Manifesto Left : Violence: One man is killed as cars bound for Los Angeles jump damaged tracks in isolated Arizona desert location. Anti-government message signed by 'Sons of Gestapo' is found at the scene.

October 10, 1995|TONY PERRY and LOUIS SAHAGUN and JESSE KATZ | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

HYDER, Ariz. — One person was killed and more than 100 others, including several children, were injured Monday as the Amtrak Sunset Limited derailed at a bridge over a dry wash in the Arizona desert on tracks that authorities said were sabotaged, apparently by a domestic group calling itself the "Sons of Gestapo."

The train, rolling through the early morning like a silver ghost, was carrying 248 passengers and 20 crew members from Miami to Los Angeles. It hit the broken tracks 27 miles east of this small town shortly after 1 a.m. local time. Passengers screamed. Children cried. One woman shouted the names of her babies over and over in the dark.

One crew member, Mitchell Bates, 41, a sleeping-car attendant based in Los Angeles, was thrown against the wall of his dormitory compartment and killed. Amtrak counted 78 injured, five critically. The injured included a woman on her honeymoon and a 3-month-old boy. Sheriff's deputies said more than 20 others suffered less serious injuries.

As rescuers arrived, authorities disclosed that:

* The saboteurs connected two 39-foot sections of rail with a red electrical cord to keep circuitry intact and train signals green. They unbolted and removed a 36-inch steel bar that joins the rail sections and pulled out 29 spikes to loosen the tracks from their wooden crossties, just around a curve in front of a wooden trestle 30 feet above the wash.

* A manifesto left at the tracks referred to federal sieges near Waco, Tex., and Ruby Ridge, Ida., rallying causes for anti-government groups. The message was described as "anti-ATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms], anti-FBI, anti-government." It was signed, "Sons of Gestapo." Anti-terrorism experts said they knew of no such group.

* The saboteurs picked a particularly isolated spot. Rescuers set up a triage center on the desert, at a dirt road six miles from the crash. Firemen sprayed the ground with water to control dust as helicopters arrived with the injured. Some were flown directly to hospitals and others to a second triage center, a Phoenix shopping center that was closed so the helicopters could land.

Investigators from the FBI, the National Transportation Safety Board and the Maricopa County sheriff's office converged at the wreckage. In Washington, Thomas M. Downs, president and chairman of Amtrak, told reporters that "someone obviously intended to drop the train off the tracks into the ravine." Two cars toppled and a third hung at the edge.

"Whoever did this," Downs said, "knew enough to wire around the signal system."

Downs said Amtrak had increased security as a result, but he declined to say how. Downs also declined to assign blame or motive for the sabotage. "I find it despicable," he declared, "that anyone would jeopardize the lives of passengers and crew for any purpose."

The Crash

The crash occurred a little more than 50 miles southwest of Phoenix as the train crossed the bridge at 50 m.p.h. A recorder that tracks speed, acceleration and other information was recovered. Investigators said they could not find any equipment problems.

An engineer reported seeing something unusual, said Sheriff's Sgt. Tim Campbell. But it was too late, Campbell said. The train's two diesel locomotives made it across the loosened rails and over the trestle, but a dormitory car for crew members, two sleeping cars for passengers and a dining car left the rails.

The sleeping cars fell on their sides. One tumbled into the ravine. The dining car dangled off the bridge and into the wash.

Darryl Taylor, 29, of Inglewood, Calif., an Amtrak chef, was asleep in the dormitory car. He heard a loud screech. "It felt like the train took a bunny hop," he said, "and I went flying through the air and smashed against a window."

"I had no clothes on. It was very dark. I was stumbling around for shoes and clothes. I heard another employee scream, 'Darryl, I can't get out. Please help me. My door is locked.' "

Taylor told the employee, a woman, to use a window.

"I climbed out of a window and emerged on top of the car," he said. "We got sledgehammers from emergency cases and started breaking windows. I was hurt, but my adrenaline was flowing, and I had to help. Some of us dropped down into the cars and tied sheets around the injured.

"Then we pulled them up through the windows. We rescued 75 to 80 people that way."

Suddenly, Taylor said, he and others realized that Bates, the sleeping car attendant, was not with them. They returned to the dormitory car.

"I broke the glass in his room because the door was locked shut," Taylor said. "We pulled the mattresses back, and then we found him. His face was smashed into the glass on the other side of the car, and his body was all twisted. He was dead.

"He was a friend of mine. We didn't want to believe he was dead. We tried to find a pulse, but we couldn't. There was a lady, a nurse, who said, 'Don't move him.'

"I sat down and cried. I was scared.

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