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Driver in Texas veterans train tragedy has not yet talked to NTSB

December 05, 2012|By Matt Pearce
  • The NTSB is continuing its investigation into the train accident that killed four veterans during a parade last month in Midland, Texas.
The NTSB is continuing its investigation into the train accident that killed… (James Durbin / Midland Reporter-Telegram…)

Three weeks after a train crashed into a parade float filled with wounded veterans in Midland, Texas, crash investigators still haven't interviewed the man who drove the truck onto the railroad tracks.

The detail was included in the National Transportation Safety Board's preliminary report, released Wednesday, into the crash that killed four veterans and seriously wounded five other people.

The report -- an early step in an NTSB investigation that is expected to last 12 to 18 months -- offered little more than a recapitulation of basic figures that, as of now, read like a physics-class word problem filled with facts but little human color or motive: An 84-car Union Pacific freight train headed east at 62 mph hit a 24-passenger tractor-trailer moving across the tracks at 5 mph; the collision pushed the trailer 30 feet and the train came to a halt almost a mile after hitting the emergency brakes....

Not included in the preliminary report were the human narratives and interviews that the NTSB uses to eventually determine the probable cause of a given crash and the combination of events that allow a catastrophe to happen.

In the case of the Nov. 15 Midland crash -- in which wounded veterans and their wives had been invited to town for an honorary banquet -- much of the indignation has been directed toward the truck's 50-year-old driver, Dale Andrew Hayden, who is also a veteran.

NTSB officials previously said that the train crossing and the train's equipment all appeared to have been functioning properly and that the truck drove onto the tracks while the warnings bells were going off.

Witnesses said that one of the crossing arms had dropped down and hit the parade float while it was crossing. City officials said parade organizers had not gotten a parade permit.

Hayden was not injured physically in the accident, but Dallas-based lawyer Douglas Fletcher, who represents Hayden's employer, told the Los Angeles Times that Hayden was "highly traumatized" by the accident and had been placed into a VA hospital in Big Spring, Texas, within 72 hours of the accident. Hayden has also been receiving hate mail, the lawyer said.

Hayden's current status was unknown. Fletcher said he never officially represented Hayden and that Hayden had retained a Midland attorney, Hal Brockett, to represent him individually. Brockett was not available for comment Wednesday afternoon.

In the days after the crash, NTSB officials said they were working with Hayden's employer, Smith Industries, and Hayden’s doctor to schedule an interview, but no interview has happened.

NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson told the Los Angeles Times that investigators had submitted a request to interview Hayden and were now waiting for a reply. "He has not turned us down, but he has not made himself available for an interview," Knudson said. "Sometimes it takes some time to get [an interview set up]. We're just hopeful we get the chance to talk to him.”

Knudson said the NTSB has the authority to compel witnesses to appear before investigators but that the agency rarely uses that power since it can't force witnesses to answer questions.

Union Pacific and Smith Industries are now facing lawsuits from injured veterans over the crash, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

The crash killed Army Sgts. Maj. Gary Stouffer, 37, and Lawrence Boivin, 47, who were pronounced dead at the scene; and Sgt. Joshua Michael, 34, and Sgt. Maj. William Lubbers, 43, who died later at Midland Memorial Hospital.

A Midland police report identified the train's drivers as Simon Ferrel Terrazas Jr., 35, and Nathan Scott, 27, the Express-News said.


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