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NTSB: Lights, warnings worked properly in Texas veterans crash

November 18, 2012|By Matt Pearce

Investigators have yet to find any mechanical problems linked to the collision that killed four military veterans Thursday, when a train slammed into their parade float in Midland, Texas.

The investigation is underway, but at news briefings this weekend, National Transportation Safety Board investigators revealed a series of details that point away from technical malfunction and more toward human error.

On Sunday, safety board member Mark Rosekind said investigators had found no mechanical, maintenance or railroad track anomalies. When a tractor trailer filled with 24 veterans and their spouses wandered onto the Union Pacific railroad tracks -- in front of an oncoming train -- the crossing's warning system was "functioning as designed," he said. 

The previous day, Rosekind said that the crossing's warning lights and bells had commenced 20 seconds before the collision and that the crossing's warning arms started to drop 13 seconds before the train hit the float. The crash killed four veterans seated together on the trailer's left side and injured 16 other riders. Nine seconds before impact, the train's engineer had begun blasting his horn. One of the crossbars dropped down and hit the float seven seconds before impact.

Investigators have yet to interview the truck driver, whom Rosekind did not identify. The truck belonged to Midland-based Smith Industries, Rosekind said, and the company was arranging for investigators to meet with the driver. Investigators don't know yet whether the driver was a company employee, he said. 

A call to the company's offices after-hours on Sunday went unanswered, and the company's top executives did not respond to emailed requests for comment.

The Hunt For Heroes parade is part of a larger annual event celebrating the service of wounded veterans from all over the country.

“This is almost an entirely all-volunteer organization and activity, so there are a lot of things that have been donated," Rosekind said. "That’s part of what we’re trying to figure out, is which part was volunteer, which part was paid for, because that kind of changes the rules, if you will, of what has to be followed.”

The parade organizer, Terry Johnson, did not respond to a request for comment.

Rosekind said officials were determining whether parade officials had received the proper permits and whether any possible planning problems were new to Thursday's parade or whether they had been going on for years. Rosekind said officials had been using the same route for three years.

Rosekind said Midland officials had designated  the crossing a "quiet zone," which tightens rules on when train operators can sound their horns before railroad crossings.

Midland city spokesman Ryan Stout had no comment on the  investigation. Preliminary findings could be released in two to three weeks, with a final report coming even later.

"When this accident happened, even though they were being honored, the veterans went back to what they knew and helped out in the situation as best and quick as they can, and we just want to commend them," Stout told the Los Angeles Times, referring to reports that at least one veteran pushed his wife out of harm's way. "They’ve become even greater and bigger than before this accident."

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