Having just celebrated Veterans Day on Monday, the news out of Midland, Texas, tonight is especially tragic. According to reports, at least four people have died and 17 others were injured after a train slammed into a parade float that was carrying a group of veterans and their families.
Reports say they were riding on two 18 wheelers as part of the Show of Support's Hunt for Heroes parade to honor wounded vets around 4:30 p.m. today. The first 18 wheeler made it across the train tracks fine; the second never did.
According to ABC, of the 17 injured, 10 were in critical condition while seven were in stable condition, so unfortunately there may be more fatalities to come.
The question, of course, is how did this happen? Crossing gates and lights were reportedly working, so it doesn't sound like a railroad malfunction. Perhaps in the excitement of the event the truck's driver missed them, or maybe the truck got stuck. An investigation is underway, and hopefully it will provide some answers that will help prevent another similar tragedy from happening again.
Witnesses recount the horrifying scene. Hamid Vatankhah told ABC, "Some people were able to jump, and some that were sitting in wheelchairs on top couldn't do nothing about it." He added that the noise from the police cars' sirens in the parade could have made it difficult to hear the train.
Early in my journalism career I interviewed a former engineer who had been involved in several crashes in which his train hit cars. I'll never forget him describing to me the feeling of looking into the terrified faces of those he was about to hit and not being able to do anything about it. Since then I've always been extra cautious when approaching railroad crossings, but it's not so hard to understand how one could get distracted in the midst of such a celebration.
The story would be just as horrific no matter who was aboard the train, but the fact that it was veterans, whose bravery and willingness to risk their own lives for our country was being celebrated, makes it particularly painful. Our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families and all veterans who are surely mourning them.
Are you extra vigilant at railroad crossings?
Image via Kossy@FINEDAYS/Flickr