Parade participants embrace after a trailer carrying wounded veterans… (James Durbin, Reporter-Telegram )
Four people were killed and 16 injured when a train slammed into a flatbed truck carrying veterans and their wives during a parade in Midland, Texas, officials said Thursday.
The Midland Police Department said two flatbed trucks participating in the "Hunt for Heroes" parade were crossing the railroad tracks about 4:30 p.m. One truck cleared the rails, but the second truck didn't make it. Some riders reportedly jumped out of the way before the collision.
Two people died at the scene and two more died at Midland Memorial Hospital, where the other injured were also taken, police said. Initial reports said 17 had been hurt, but a hospital spokeswoman said later that it was 16. She said one was in critical condition, one had been transferred to University Medical Center in Lubbock, and 10 were treated and released.
Photos from local media showed the train halted at the crossing, with emergency personnel and shocked onlookers gathered. Some people were crying and hugging.
Union Pacific spokesman Tom Lange told the Los Angeles Times that the train was headed east to Shreveport, La., when it hit the truck around 4:40 p.m.
“That crossing is equipped with lights and gates, and our preliminary findings show the lights and gates were working ... and the train crews sounded a locomotive horn,” Lange said. No members of the crew were hurt, he said.
Lange said the train, which included more than 80 cars, had cameras on its front and “black boxes” akin to those on an aircraft that will aid in the investigation. The National Transportation Safety Board investigates train accidents.
According to the parade organizers’ website, the Hunt for Heroes event is held every year for wounded U.S. service members. Veterans participate in an all-expenses-paid whitetail deer hunt, with a banquet beforehand to honor their service.
Mike McKinney, a board member for the organizing group, called Show Our Support, said most if not all of the veterans were from out of town. Some survivors had gathered at a hotel, he said.
McKinney said the parade's organizer, Terry Johnson, was busy trying to find rides for victims' families and set up transportation for out-of-town families.
"It’s people who come from all over the country," McKinney told the Los Angeles Times. "That’s why we’ve got all the logistical issues right now and trying to get people home or get people’s families here. That’s really where the focus is right now.”
He added that his wife and other locals had gone to the hospital to give blood.
John Philbeck of Midland, a member of the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial Committee, told the Los Angeles Times that the parade participants included multiple-amputees and burn victims. He called the crash "a tragedy of epic proportions."
"We give them the keys to the city, the mayor’s there, city council members from both Midland and Odessa are there, it’s a true celebration," he said. "And for it to turn so tragically wrong is just devastating.”
[For the record, 10:24 p.m. Nov. 15: An earlier version of this post said 17 were injured. A hospital spokeswoman said later that it was 16. In addition, a previous version of this post said five of those still in Midland hospital were in critical condition. Actually, one was in critical condition, and another patient has been transferred to University Medical Center in Lubbock.]