Spain Train Driver Accused of 'Recklessness' in Crash

Police arrected train driver in crash that killed 78, injured many more

 

 
 
 

Ciaran Giles and Yesica Fisch, Associated Press | | Friday, July 26, 2013

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Images: High-Speed Train Derails in Spain

Blame increasingly fell on the still-hospitalized driver over Spain's deadliest railway crash in decades.
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SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain (AP) — Spanish police said Friday they have arrested the driver of the train that sped through a curve and toppled over, killing 78 people, and plan to question him over suspected reckless driving.

JEMS: Train Derailment Kills at Least 80 in Spain

As blame increasingly fell on the still-hospitalized driver over Spain's deadliest railway crash in decades, authorities located the train's so-called "black box" that is expected to shed further light on the disaster's cause.

Investigators said they would seek evidence of failings by Francisco Jose Garzon Amo, the 52-year-old driver, as well as the train's internal speed-regulation systems in Wednesday's derailment.

The train company, Renfe, defended the driver Friday, lauding what it called his exhaustive experience. But the country's railway agency, Adif, noted that the driver should have started slowing the train long before reaching the disastrous turn.

In an interview with The Associated Press, an American passenger injured on the train said he saw on a TV monitor screen inside his car that the train was traveling 194 kph (121 mph) seconds before the crash — far above the 80 kph (50 mph) speed limit on the curve where it derailed. The passenger, 18-year-old Stephen Ward, said the train appeared to have accelerated, not decelerated.

And Gonzalo Ferre, president of the rail infrastructure company Adif, said the driver should have started slowing the train 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) before reaching a dangerous bend that train drivers had been told to respect.

"Four kilometers before the accident happened he already had warnings that he had to begin slowing his speed, because as soon as he exits the tunnel he needs to be traveling at 80 kilometers per hour," Ferre said.

At the scene, hundreds of onlookers watched as crews used a crane Friday to hoist smashed and burned-up cars onto flat-bed trucks to cart them away. The shattered front engine had been tipped back upright but remained resting beside the tracks, just yards from the passage of resumed train traffic.

Grieving families gathered for funerals near the site of the crash in Santiago de Compostela, a site of Catholic pilgrimage that had been preparing to celebrate its most revered saint, James. Those annual festivities planned for Thursday were canceled.

Police lowered the death toll Friday to 78 as forensic scientists matched body parts. They previously had identified 80 dead.

Amo was arrested Thursday night in the hospital. Photographs indicated he had suffered a head wound in the crash.

Jaime Iglesias, police chief of Spain's northwest Galicia region, said Amo would be questioned "as a suspect for a crime linked to the cause of the accident." When asked, Iglesias described Amo's alleged offense as "recklessness." He declined to elaborate.

The driver is under police guard but has yet to be interviewed. That might be delayed because of his medical treatment, Iglesias said.

Renfe said Amo is a 30-year employee of the state train company, who became an assistant driver in 2000 and a fully qualified driver in 2003.

Amo had driven trains past the spot of the accident around 60 times and "the knowledge of this line that he had to have is exhaustive," Renfe's president, Julio Gomez-Pomar, said in a TV interview.

Iglesias said police took possession of the train's "black box," which is expected to shed light on why it was going faster than the speed limit. The box will be handed over to the investigating judge, Iglesias said, adding that the box had not been opened yet.

The box records the train's trip data, including speed, distances and braking, and is similar to a flight recorder for an airplane. A court spokeswoman declined to comment on how long analysis of the box's contents would take.

Police said they had positively identified 75 bodies but still required help from relatives and DNA testing to identify what they believe are the remains of three people.

Spanish authorities said the dead included at least five foreign visitors: one person each from Algeria, the Dominican Republic, Italy, Mexico and the United States.

Catholic Church authorities in the U.S. state of Virginia identified the dead American as Ana Maria Cordoba, 47. She had been traveling to Santiago de Compostela to meet up with her youngest son, also named Santiago, who had just completed the area's celebrated religious trek through the mountains of northern Spain.

The New York Daily News reported that her husband and daughter also were on the train but survived, with the husband sustaining skull injuries and the daughter a broken leg.

The Dominican government identified its victim as Ynoa Rosalina Gonzalez, 42, a senior official in the country's Economy Ministry. It said Gonzalez' two sisters provided DNA samples to confirm the identity of the body.

Eyewitness accounts backed by security-camera footage of the moment of disaster showed that the eight-carriage train was going too fast as it tried to turn left underneath a road bridge. After impact, witnesses said a fire engulfed passengers trapped in at least one carriage, most likely driven by ruptured tanks of diesel fuel carried in the forward engines.

Ward, a Mormon missionary from Utah who was on the train, said he was writing in his journal when he looked up at the monitor and saw the train's speed registering as 194 kph. Then, he said, "the train lifted up off the track. It was like a roller coaster."

Ward said he remembered a backpack falling from the rack above him as his last memory before he blacked out.

When Ward woke up, someone was helping him walk out of his train car and crawl out of a ditch where the carriage had toppled over. He thought he was dreaming for 30 seconds until he felt his blood-drenched face and noticed the scene around him.

"Everyone was covered in blood. There was smoke coming up off the train," he said. "There was a lot of crying, a lot of screaming. There were plenty of dead bodies. It was quite gruesome."

It was Spain's deadliest train accident since 1972, when a train collided with a bus in southwest Spain, killing 86 people and injuring 112.
___

Giles reported from Madrid. Associated Press writers Alan Clendenning and Harold Heckle in Madrid, Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin and Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City, Utah, contributed to this report.

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Major Incidents


Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Images: High-Speed Train Derails in Spain

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Crash Surveillence

This image taken from security camera video shows a train derailing in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Wednesday, July 24, 2013. Spanish investigators tried to determine Thursday why a passenger train jumped the tracks and sent eight cars crashing into each other just before arriving in this northwestern shrine city on the eve of a major Christian religious festival, killing at least 77 people and injuring more than 140. AP Photo


Gallery 1

Derailed Train

In this photo taken on Wednesday July 24 2013, emergency personnel respond to the scene of a train derailment in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. AP Photo/La Voz de Galicia/Monica Ferreiros


Gallery 1

Bridge Over Trouble

Emergency personnel work at the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. AP Photo/ Lalo Villar


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Among the Victims

In this photo taken on Wednesday July 24 2013, victims are seen at the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Spanish police on Friday July 26 2013 detained the driver of a train that crashed in northwestern Spain, lowered the death toll from 80 to 78 and took possession of the "black box" of the train expected to shed light on why it was going faster than the speed limit on the curve where it derailed. And in an interview with The Associated Press, an American passenger injured on the train said he saw on a TV monitor screen inside his car that the train was traveling 194 kph (121 mph) seconds before the crash — far above the 80 kph (50 mph) speed limit on the curve where it derailed. AP Photo/La Voz de Galicia/Monica Ferreiros


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Gaining Axe-cess

A firefighter uses an axe to open way inside a train car at the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. AP Photo/Lalo Villar


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Bloodied Driver

In this photo taken on Wednesday July 24 2013, train driver Francisco Jose Garzon Amo is helped by two men as he is evacuated from the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Police say they have detained Amo for recklessness in the train crash in northwestern Spain that killed 78 people. Galicia region National Police Chief Jaime Iglesias says Amo was officially detained in the hospital where is recovering. AP Photo/La Voz de Galicia/Xoan Soler


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The Walking Wounded

In this photo taken on Wednesday July 24 2013, wounded people are evacuated at the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. AP Photo/La Voz de Galicia/Monica Ferreiros


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Couple Counseling

A couple comfort each other outside a makeshift morgue in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, Friday July 26, 2013. AP Photo/Brais Lorenzo


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Relative Reaction

Relatives of the victims involved in Wednesday's train accident react at a victims information point in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. AP Photo/ Salome Montes


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Moment of Grief

Relatives of victims involved in a train accident react at a victims information point in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday July 25, 2013. Relatives of victims from a train crash in northwestern Spain sobbed and hugged each other Thursday near a makeshift morgue in a sports arena for the victims as the death toll rose to 78 and investigators tried to determine the cause. AP Photo/Brais Lorenzo


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Recovering Missionary

This Thursday, July 25, 2013 photo provided by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints shows young Mormon missionary from Utah, Stephen Ward, 18, hospitalized. Ward was among the survivors of the Spain train crash that left 80 dead. AP Photo/The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Scott Jackson


Gallery 1

Up and Away

Derailed cars are removed as emergency personnel work at the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. AP Photo/ Lalo Villar


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Removing Cars

Derailed cars are removed as emergency personnel work at the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain on Thursday July 25, 2013. The death toll in a passenger train crash in northwestern Spain rose to more than 70 on Thursday after the train jumped the tracks on a curvy stretch just before arriving in the northwestern shrine city of Santiago de Compostela, a judicial official said. AP Photo/Lalo Villar


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Wreck Investigation

Police and security officers look at a wrecked carriage in a train depot in Padron, near Santiago de Compostela, Spain, Friday July 26, 2013 after it was taken there from the scene of a train accident. Investigators have taken possession of the “black boxes” of the Spanish train that hurtled at high-speed along a curve and derailed, killing 80 people, a court official said Friday. Analysis will be performed to determine why the train was traveling far above the speed limit when it crashed near a station in Santiago de Compostela, in the northwestern Galicia region, said court spokeswoman Maria Pardo Rios. AP Photo/Lalo R. Villar


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Wrecked Carriages

Wrecked carriages sit at a train depot in Padron, near Santiago de Compostela, Spain, Friday July 26, 2013 after they were taken there from the scene of a train accident. AP Photo/Lalo R. Villar


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Candle for Victims

A woman places a candle on the outside of the cathedral for the victims of the train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, Friday July 26, 2013. AP Photo/Lalo R. Villar


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Back in Action

A passenger 'Alvia' type train pulls into the station in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, Friday July 26, 2013. The 'Alvia' train, the same as the one that crashed Wednesday, is the first to operate on this line after the accident. Investigators have taken possession of the “black boxes” of the Spain train that hurtled at high-speed along a curve and derailed, killing about 80 people, a court official said Friday. Analysis will be performed to determine why the train was traveling far above the speed limit when it crashed near a station in Santiago de Compostela, in the northwestern Galicia region, said court spokeswoman Maria Pardo Rios. AP Photo/Brais Lorenzo



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