Float driver says train seemed still before crash
LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) -- The driver of a parade float involved in a train wreck that killed four war veterans in Texas told investigators that the oncoming train appeared to be stationary, and that he didn't notice anything was wrong until he saw people jumping from the float, according to documents released Wednesday.
Dale Hayden has never spoken publicly about the crash in Midland on Nov. 15. But he told federal investigators he was focused on his left-side rearview mirror as he crossed the tracks, looking for a bump in the intersection so he could provide the veterans riding on the flatbed trailer a smoother ride, according to documents released by the National Transportation Safety Board.
As he looked through his right window, the oncoming train appeared to have stopped, he said. It wasn't until he looked in his rearview mirror that he saw people jumping from the float.
"When I looked in the right mirror, that's when I saw the flashing lights. But at first it didn't register. It just - to me there was just flashing lights, more flashing lights," Hayden told investigators on Feb. 20. "But it (the train) looked like it was just sitting there. It didn't - I didn't see it moving or anything. To me, it was just sitting there."
The NTSB has said the train was travelling at about 62 mph at the time of the collision and that warning lights on the tracks appeared to be working.
The truck was carrying about two dozen veterans and their spouses as part of a weekend honoring troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hayden was driving the second of two parade trucks that day. He said the first truck had a loud train-like horn that made it difficult to tell if the train was blowing its horn.
As the train approached, he said, "I looked in the mirror and just saw everybody started to jump off, and then bam."
The driver of the first truck, James Atchison, said he also couldn't remember hearing the train horn, and that as he cleared the intersection, he didn't remember seeing the flashing lights or hearing the warning bells of the crossing.
The train's conductor, Nathan Scott, told investigators that when he saw the second truck pull onto the train tracks, he knew the train was going to hit it. He said he couldn't quite see what was on the trailer at the time, but once he saw it was carrying people, operators put the train into emergency mode.
"By then it was too late. We cooked the back of the trailer. I knew we killed two almost instantly. We saw them jump off right in front of us. I saw them fall in front of us and it was - they disappeared," Scott told investigators in an interview two days after the crash.
Four veterans were killed in the crash, and dozens more were wounded.
The veterans were on their way to a banquet in their honor and were being cheered by a flag-waving crowd. It was supposed to be the start of a three-day weekend of banquets, deer hunting and shopping in appreciation of the veterans' sacrifice.
That afternoon, Hayden - himself a veteran - recalled having the trucks washed and spending about two hours polishing all the aluminum on the truck and the chrome. Then he went home to change into his military uniform.
"They wanted me to drive with that on because, you know, it looked good," he said.
Atchison during his interview with accident investigators added: "We love these guys (the veterans), and Dale is a soldier himself. This guy was so excited. He was honored to do it. He was in his camo fatigues... And I don't understand it. These were his brothers."
The veterans killed in the crash were Marine Chief Warrant Officer 3 Gary Stouffer, 37; Army Sgt. Maj. Lawrence Boivin, 47; Army Sgt. Joshua Michael, 34; and Army Sgt. Maj. William Lubbers, 43.
Juan Carlos Llorca reported from El Paso, Texas.