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Federal investigators begin train crash inquiry

November 17, 2012|By Joseph Serna
  • Police officers walk in front of a trailer that was carrying wounded veterans in a parade when it was struck Thursday by a train in Midland, Texas.
Police officers walk in front of a trailer that was carrying wounded veterans… (Juan Carlos Llorca / Associated…)

Federal investigators are looking into whether power outages in a Midland, Texas, neighborhood in the hours before a horrific crash at a railroad crossing could have affected the crossing’s lights and gates.

At an afternoon press conference Friday, Mark Rosekind of the National Transportation Safety Board said the outages were part of several factors a 16-person team of investigators would examine in the next week.

On Thursday afternoon, the Midland community was hosting an annual veterans Show of Support parade when its two floats -- with the rear one carrying 12 veterans, their wives and two civilian escorts -- began crossing some railroad tracks.

The first float made it across safely. The second did not. Witness reports vary, but among the widely reported accounts is that the crossing’s gates began to lower and its lights began to flash while the second trailer was on the tracks.

A double-decker Union Pacific train, being pulled by three engines in the front and pushed by one in the rear, slammed into the trailer, killing four veterans and injuring 16 others.

Early findings show the train was traveling at 62 mph, below the track’s 70 mph speed limit. The conductor hit the emergency brakes before the collision, Rosekind said.

Investigators will determine if the parade had permits to cross the tracks, if organizers had notified Union Pacific, and how much warning -- if any -- the crossing gates and lights gave the veterans before the crash.

“Our mission is to determine the probable cause” for the crash, Rosekind said.

At least two of the injured remained hospitalized Saturday. One of them, Army Staff Sgt. Shane Ladner, issued a statement to the media and asked for them to respect his and his family’s privacy.

“I want to thank the people of Midland and the people of this great country for their prayers and support,” the statement said. “I also want to thank the Show of Support organization for honoring us and everything they have done for us and our families. We appreciate the doctors and staff at Midland Memorial Hospital for providing excellent care. Prayers have been and continue to be answered. Please continue to pray for us.”

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joseph.serna@latimes.com

@josephserna

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