In Midland, Texas, a group of honored veterans were placed atop a float and paraded through the streets in a caravan which was taking them to an arena for a ceremony. A flatbed truck was adorned with American flags and folding chairs for the occasion, and signs listed the names of all 24 honored veterans who were being recognized that night. All veterans on the float were previously wounded and many received the Purple Heart in the past. As well, all veterans fought in either Afghanistan or Iraq. They were accompanied by their spouses. The troopers were going to be praised for their service to the country at the Hunt for Heroes Banquet that night, where 6,000 attendees were waiting.
Texans lined the streets to cheer for and thank the soldiers who spent their loves helping civilians and preserving the American freedom. Yet the jovial atmosphere and excitement disappeared in an instant when the parade crossed train tracks. While the Houston Chronicle says that the crossbars and lights at the train crossing were in working condition, there is still some speculation about whether the parade crossed the tracks while the arms were down. Admittedly, 80 percent of all railroad crossings do not have adequate warnings to prevent people from trying to make it across the tracks at a dangerous time.
The parade, with its brightly colored floats and smiling, waiving soldiers, moved slowly across the metal train tracks as a locomotive hurled towards them. In a blur of loud honking, screams, and speeding metal, the train pushed into a parade float. Wood splintered, bodies fell, and the idyllic scene transformed into a gory nightmare. ABC News says that the National Transportation Safety Board is currently probing into the situation to determine what caused the collision. The Department of Transportation reports that there are about 5,800 train accidents in the United States per year, and many of these happen at railroad crossings.
In addition to 4 deaths, 17 people on or near the float were injured in this collision. About 60 people are killed in train collisions every year, and an average of 2,300 victims are injured. Witnesses from Midland say that they saw the trailer crossing the tracks as the large locomotive approached, and noticed veterans attempting to jump off of the float in an effort to save their lives. One witness told ABC News that she realized immediately that the train was going to hit the veterans, and began screaming from her vehicle where she was waiting to cross an intersection. Another witness says that he could see people caught underneath the train, and was shocked by the gruesome, bloody death scene in front of him. What was meant to be a classy and enjoyable night honoring those who fought for our country, turned into an evening of death and unspeakable loss.
Many of the victims on the flatbed truck were in wheelchairs due to war wounds, and were unable to evacuate the float as the large train lurched forward. Witnesses say that even in the shocking adversity, these seasoned veterans were helping each other. Those that were not harmed began to help those that were, and were treating their wounds on the truck. Union Pacific insists that the cross guarding and lights were working at the time of the crash, and argues that the driver of the flatbed truck must have overestimated his ability to get the rig through the railway before the train approached. 75% percent of all train accidents occur when the locomotive hits the vehicle, rather than the other way around.
Army SGM Gary Stouffer, 37 and Army SGM Lawrence Biovin, 47, were both pronounced dead at the scene. 17 victims were rushed to hospitals, and 10 of the injured were released the same day with minor injuries. Four people who are still at the hospital are in stable condition, while one victim remains in a critical state. Two men died in the late hours at the hospital from their injuries. They were William Lubbers, 43 and Sgt. Joshua Michael 34. Michael was killed when he managed to push his wife off the float in time and preserve her life. His mother-in-law remarked that he was the type of man who always had a smile on his face and would think about others before himself. He retired from the Army due to health reasons. This husband and father of two had received two Purple Hearts in battle and was involved in two tours to Iraq. SGM Biovin also committed the heroic act of saving his wife by pushing her off of the float before he was killed. His wife was harmed in the crash but was able to survive.
The Texas Department of Transportation reports that the state has actually seen train and vehicle accidents decline 68 percent over the past 10 years. Most railroads are self-regulated but they come under the supervision of the government, so the authorities may be held partially responsible for the tragedy. The historic tragedy comes as a shock to TDT workers, and they hope to determine the cause of the accident soon. Investigators are trying to determine the speed of the train and what precautions were taken to avoid a collision. The Department of Defense has requested that citizens in Midland, Texas, lower their flags to half-mast until Monday to honor the four men who gave their lives for their country and were taken so suddenly.
About every 115 minutes, a person or a car is hit by a train. Almost all accidents occur when the crossing arms and lights at a train track crossing are functioning properly. Impatient drivers will often try to weave through the crossing arms before a train arrives, or will distractedly stop on the tracks at a red light and become entrapped when the train comes. There are also times that trains are derailed, and may hit cars driving on parallel roads. About 1,000 people die in train accidents every year, and countless more are injured. If you have been harmed in a train accident, then you have the right to contact a Houston personal injury attorney like those at Arnold & Itkin. We will represent you in your train accident case or wrongful death claims and seek the settlement that you deserve for your suffering.