Authorities examine a parade float that was hit by a train in Midland, Texas. (Tim Fischer / Reporter-Telegram…)
The National Transportation Safety Board has begun its investigation into the crash at a railroad crossing in Midland, Texas, where a freight train hit a parade float carrying veterans, killing four, officials said Friday.
The crash turned what had been expected to be a celebration of veteran pride into a scene of destruction. Two flatbed tractor-trailers were carrying wounded veterans and their families to a banquet during a local veterans support group's parade on Thursday afternoon when a Union Pacific train hit one of the vehicles as the parade was crossing the tracks, according to officials.
NTSB officials are on scene to head the investigation into the crash, Midland police announced. Among other things, they will examine the black box from the train to determine its speed at the time of impact.
Police identified the dead as Army Sgt. Maj. Gary Stouffer, 37, and Sgt. Maj. Lawrence Boivin, 47, who were pronounced dead at the scene; and Army Sgt. Joshua Michael, 34, and Sgt. Maj. William Lubbers, 43, who died later at Midland Memorial Hospital.
Sixteen others were injured in the crash, police said. As of Friday morning, five remained hospitalized; four were listed in stable and one in critical condition, police said.
Midland Mayor Wes Perry and pastors Patrick Payton and Roy Smith are scheduled to host a community prayer vigil for the victims and their families, officials said. Midland is about 300 miles west of Dallas.
The day's event, including the parade, had been organized by Show Of Support, a local veterans group. The parade was supposed to end at a "Hunt for Heroes" banquet honoring the veterans, who were then to be given a deer-hunting trip over the weekend. The events were canceled.
According to officials, the parade was traveling westbound on Wall Street when it turned south on Garfield Street, crossing the train tracks. The last two floats in the parade were carrying the veterans and their spouses.
The first flatbed crossed the train tracks, but the second did not make it across before being struck by the train traveling eastbound, police said. There were 26 people on the flatbed when it was struck, police said.
Late Thursday, Union Pacific spokesman Tom Lange told reporters that a preliminary investigation indicated that the crossing gate and warning lights at the tracks were working. He said he did not know if the train crew saw the float.
Deborah Hersman, NTSB chairwoman, said the train was equipped with a forward-facing camera, which could provide images to help in the investigation.
"That will give us some video images, if it survived the crash and we can download it, as well as recorders on the train,” Hersman said Friday on NBC's "Today" show. "We're going to be looking at the signals ... and making sure that the gates and lights were coming down."