|From ABC News abcnews.go.com
Midland, Texas Train Crash: Hero Vets Die Saving Wives
By ANTHONY CASTELLANO and KEVIN DOLAK
Nov. 16, 2012—
Joshua Michael Received two Purple Hearts After two Tours in Iraq
Police have identified the four servicemen who died in Midland, Texas when a freight train plowed into a parade float carrying wounded veterans and their spouses at a crossing, two of whom saved their wives by pushing them to safety before they died.
Army Sgt. Maj. Gary Stouffer, 37, and 47-year-old Army Sgt. Maj. Lawrence Boivin were pronounced dead at the scene, police said, after the float carrying wounded veterans and their families to an honorary banquet was struck by a Union Pacific train around 4:30 p.m. Thursday afternoon. The train struck as the parade was crossing the tracks, turning the honorary event into a scene of destruction.
Army Sgt. Joshua Michael, 34, and 43-year-old Army Sgt. Maj. William Lubbers were transported from the scene and later pronounced dead at Midland Memorial Hospital, according to the Midland Police.
Seventeen people in all were transported to the hospital and 10 were treated and released. Four people were in stable condition and one is in critical condition as of this morning.
Michael was killed in the crash but was able to save his wife, his mother-in-law told the Amarillo Globe-News.
"He pushed his wife off the float -- my daughter," Mary Hefley told the newspaper. "He was that kind of guy. He always had a smile on his face. He would do for others before he would do for himself."
Hefley said Michael retired from the Army due to health reasons.
According to a website set up by Cory Rogers, a friend of Michael's family, the father of two completed two tours of duty in Iraq, and received two Purple Hearts after being wounded in combat.
"His love of country and for his wife, Daylyn and their two children shone through," his family said in a statement on the site. "The family appreciates everyone's thoughts and prayers in this very difficult time."
Sgt. Maj. Boivin also pushed his wife out of the way before he was hit, Jaime Garza told ABC News. He said that his wife was hurt in the crash, but survived. Boivin died in his arms, Garza said.
Garza said that he and his wife Denise lost their son in Afghanistan seven years ago. On Thursday, they were driving in a separate car about a block away, helping escort the floats.
"I looked in my rear view mirror. That's when I saw the train hit the float," he said. "I made a quick U-turn to get back up there. The first person who was there was Lawrence. I had to help him out ... and he gave me his last breath ... He actually pushed [his wife] off the float and then he got hit."
Denise Garza said that the entire incident happened very fast.
"Everybody was getting help in two seconds. Everybody had help. It was like the best response," she said. "It was terrible. The worst thing I've ever seen in my whole life."
About two dozen veterans and their spouses had been sitting in chairs on the back of a flatbed tractor-trailer decorated with American flags and signs identifying each veteran.
The first truck crossed the tracks in time, but the second did not, according to Hamid Vatankhah, a witness who owns a used car lot near the scene of the crash.
Sirens from the police cars in the parade may have drowned out the sound of the approaching train, Vatankhah said.
The impact, witnesses say, was deafening as the train plowed through the parade float crossing the tracks in an industrial part of Midland.
"Some people were able to jump, and some that were sitting in wheelchairs on top couldn't do nothing about it," Vatankhah said.
Patricia Howle was sitting traffic with her daughter watching the parade go by when she heard the train honking its horn.
"I just saw people going under the train," said eyewitness Eservando Wisler. "There was blood. There was blood all over."
A Union Pacific spokesman, Tom Lange, said it appeared safety devices at the crash site were working. But there were conflicting reports by eyewitnesses about whether the gates went down at the crossing when the train approached.
"I saw the truck crossing the tracks. About halfway across the gates started coming down. The truck tried to blow his horn to get the other people in front of him out of the way. The gates actually hit the first people on the trailer," witness Michael Briggs said.
"Our preliminary findings indicate that the lights and gates were working at the time of the incident and that our train crew sounded the locomotive horn," said Lange.
Midland, Texas, Train-Parade Crash Under Investigation
The National Transportation Safety Board was at the scene and has launched an investigation into the accident.
This evening, an NTSB official said video recorders from the train were on their way to Washington for analysis by the board.
He added that there have been prior accidents at the scene of Thursday's disaster.
"There were some accidents from 1979 to 1997 but there has not been an accident at this train crossing in the last 15 years, so the question is what might have changed in that period of time," said the official, Mark Rosekind.
The Texas Department of Transportation told ABC News that the state has actually seen vehicle and train-related fatalities decline 68 percent the last 10 years.
Regarding Thursday's accident, NTSB investigators should be able to determine the speed of the train, as well as whether the train's horn was sounded prior to the accident, when they examine the train's black box.
Rosekind said the NTSB also will be able to study the circumstances of the accident in other ways.
"Our investigators are looking at the rules, regulations, requirements, permits, related to the parade," Rosekind said. "Specifically, we're going to be looking at what the requirements are in notifying the railroad and whether all the procedures, permits, etc., were actually followed, by everyone.
"Our mission is to determine the probable cause, which is determining not just what happened but why," he said, "and that why is critical for us to determine what safety recommendations need to be issued so this does not happen again."
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta "was deeply saddened by news of the tragic accident involving veteran heroes and their spouses in Midland," Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement. "His thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims, with those injured in this incident, and with the entire community."
"It's obviously a real sad day for Midland, Texas. This may be one of the most tragic events we've had in our town," Mayor Wes Perry said.
Perry today hosted a community-wide prayer vigil to help show support for the victims and their families that have been affected by the incident at the Centennial Plaza in Downtown Midland. Mayor Perry is asking citizens to show support by lowering their flags to half-mast until Monday morning at 8 a.m.
ABC News' Michael S. James and Steven Portnoy contributed to this report.
|From The New York Times nytimes.com
Grief and Questions Abound After Fatal Parade Collision
By MANNY FERNANDEZ and EMMA G. FITZSIMMONS
MIDLAND, Tex. — One was a Union Pacific freight train bound for Louisiana, a 7,200-foot-long behemoth with 84 cargo cars rumbling through the flat industrial edge of this West Texas city. The other was a popular annual parade for wounded veterans and their spouses, a leisurely cruise through the dusty streets that moved slowly enough that the participants comfortably sat in chairs on the back of flatbed trucks.
About 4:30 p.m. Thursday, four days after Veterans Day, the two processions collided, leaving a deadly, chaotic scene at a rail crossing two miles outside downtown Midland. One dozen veterans who had dodged gunfire and explosives in tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan were killed or injured in the unlikeliest of places, at a so-called Show of Support parade in a patriotic city known as the hometown of Laura Bush and the childhood home of her husband, former President George W. Bush.
Four Army and Marine veterans were killed, and 16 veterans and civilians were injured, at least one of them critically. On Friday, there were more questions than answers about what went wrong, and whether mechanical or human error was to blame, as the National Transportation Safety Board began an investigation.
Veterans and their spouses had been seated on the open flatbed trailers of two trucks, one driving in front of the other. The authorities said that the first truck drove over the railroad crossing at South Garfield Street and West Industrial Avenue, but that the second one was traveling over the tracks when the train struck the rear of the vehicle. Witnesses who were either driving in the parade or watching it on the street said the rail crossing’s long gate arms came down on the people seated on the trailer as the truck made its way over the tracks. And they described how the train seemed to come from out of nowhere, blaring its horn, they said, only seconds before impact.
“I did not hear the train at all,” said one witness, Joe Cobarobio, 39, who stood filming the parade. “I did not hear the horn as it was approaching the intersection. I only heard it right about three seconds before it slammed into the back of the tractor-trailer.”
At the rail crossing, Purple Heart soldiers became first responders, tending to the injured, and others, relatives and witnesses said, became heroes once more. One of the four who died, Joshua Michael, 34, a retired Army sergeant who had been wounded by an improvised explosive device in Iraq, pushed his wife off the trailer to save her life, relatives said. “I think she was the only one on the float who was not injured,” said Mr. Michael’s mother-in-law, Mary Ruth Hefley, 74. “He was a hero in this Army and a hero in life, in my eyes.”
Mr. Michael worked as a real estate agent and lived in Converse, Tex., with his wife and two children, Ryan, 14, and Maci, 7. He had met his wife, Daylyn Michael, 34, when both attended Amarillo College. He had two Purple Hearts from service in Iraq. “She said last night the little boy was doing real good,” Ms. Hefley said, referring to her daughter and grandson. “But the little girl just cried. That’s all she would do, is cry.”
The others killed were Gary Stouffer, 37, who served in the Marines for 17 years, was wounded in Afghanistan and is survived by his wife and two children; William Lubbers, 43, who served in the Army Special Forces, had been shot in the arm in Afghanistan and lived in Fayetteville, N.C., with his wife and two children; and Lawrence Boivin, 47, who received a Purple Heart while in the Army in Iraq and leaves a wife, two stepdaughters and a grandson.
Of four people still at Midland Memorial Hospital, one was in critical condition and three were listed as stable, a hospital spokeswoman said. One person was transferred to a hospital in Lubbock on Thursday night in serious condition, and 11 others have been released, she said.
National Transportation Safety Board officials said investigators had not determined whether the rail crossing’s red flashing lights and gate arms were functioning at the time of the accident. They also said they had not determined whether, as witnesses reported, the gate arms came down on the middle of the flatbed trailer. A spokesman for Union Pacific, Tom Lange, said a preliminary investigation by the company found that the lights and gates at the crossing were working at the time of the crash and that the train crew had properly sounded the locomotive horn.
Federal regulations for train crossings require that flashing lights and bells at the gates begin at least 20 seconds before a train passes. However, in designated quiet zones, the train engineer does not have to blast the horn but can make that call if it appears to be necessary. The crossing in Midland was one of those designated quiet zones. Federal rules require the gate arms to begin to move downward no less than three seconds after the flashing lights begin and to be horizontal at least five seconds before the arrival of the train.
Mark Rosekind, an N.T.S.B. member, said investigators were collecting a number of video and data recordings of the accident. The lead engine, for example, had a forward-facing video camera known as a track image recorder, and other locomotive units had so-called event recorders collecting data.
There were 10 collisions at that rail crossing between 1979 and 1997, but none in the past 15 years, Mr. Rosekind said. None of those collisions led to fatalities. A likely focus of the investigation will be the train’s speed. A Union Pacific spokeswoman said the company changed the speed limit for trains in Midland from 40 miles per hour to 70 m.p.h. in 2006. She said the company had not had any accidents at that crossing since the speed limit was increased.
Mr. Rosekind said the train was traveling 62 m.p.h. at the time of the accident. Its emergency braking had been applied before the collision, but it had not been determined precisely when.
The parade left a downtown hotel on Thursday and then turned south onto Garfield Street, where it crossed the train tracks, escorted by sheriff’s and police officials as well as civilian vehicles. It was headed for a banquet in the veterans’ honor. The train was traveling east; it had started its journey in Los Angeles and was headed for Shreveport, La. The truck that was struck was carrying 26 people in the seats on the flatbed trailer — 12 veterans, 12 spouses and 2 civilian escorts.
Robert Volker was driving his pickup truck near the front of the parade with his wife, Melissa, at his side. Two trucks carrying the veterans and their wives were behind them. Mr. Volker had driven over the railroad crossing when, 15 to 20 seconds later, he heard a loud boom, he said. “We thought at first it was maybe a blown tire,” he said. “We immediately look back and just see dust.”
After the crash, Mr. Volker said, the veterans went to work. “We saw a lot of the soldiers from the first float doing what they do,” he said. “Controlling the scene, helping their comrades, doing what they’re trained to do.”
Manny Fernandez reported from Midland, and Emma G. Fitzsimmons from New York.
|From The Seattle PI seattlepi.com
Float in train crash that killed vets was donated
JUAN CARLOS LLORCA, Associated Press
Updated 11:58 a.m., Sunday, November 18, 2012
MIDLAND, Texas (AP) — The truck that was used as a parade float involved a horrific train crash
in West Texas that killed four U.S. military veterans was donated for the event, organizers said
Investigators say the truck began crossing the train tracks even though warning bells were
sounding and lights were flashing. It was the second of two parade floats filled with wounded war
veterans. The first float had already cleared the tracks when the accident happened.
The National Transportation Safety Board released a timeline of the accident Saturday, based on
information from cameras and data recorders.
"Once the crossing becomes active, people should stop," lead investigator Robert Accetta with the
The parade Thursday was organized by a group called Show of Support and was an annual event
in Midland for nine years.
Investigators have not identified the driver of the float. Show of Support spokesman Michael
McKinney said only that the truck was donated but did not identify the owner.
Part of the investigation includes whether the group had the proper permit.
Nine seconds before the crash, the train sounded its horn, a blaring that lasted four seconds,
according to NTSB spokesman Mark Rosekind. The guardrail hit the truck, and then the engineer
pulled the emergency brake, trying to bring the train that was traveling at 62 mph to a screeching
Some people tried to jump off the float, witnesses said. Four veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan
were killed and 16 more people were injured.
The NTSB said no mechanical problems were found with the cars or the tracks, and the train's
maintenance history was clean. Investigators will try to establish on Monday what the engine
could have seen as it approached the truck, Rosekind said.
Railroads are a vital part of Midland, a town that sits in the heart of Texas' oil rich Permian basin.
Three or four railroad tracks lie within city limits. The city is listed as having nearly 114,000
residents, but residents and officials believe the population has risen significantly with the growth
of the oil industry.
The veterans were on their way to a banquet in their honor and were being cheered by a flagwaving crowd when the accident happened.
Killed 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.
Two of the injured were still at a Midland hospital Sunday afternoon, one in critical condition and
another in stable condition.
Associated Press writers Ramit Plushnick-Masti in Houston; Danny Robbins in Dallas; Angela K.
Brown in Fort Worth, Texas, contributed to this report.