A Union Pacific freight train struck a parade float carrying wounded veterans and their families on Thursday, November 15, killing four people and injuring 17 others. The decorated flatbed truck was trying to get through a railroad crossing in the West Texas town of Midland, on its way to an honorary banquet. According to witnesses and Union Pacific spokesman Tom Lange, the locomotive was sounding its horn and people were jumping off the float before the collision around 4:40 p.m.
Two people died at the scene, while two others died at Midland Memorial Hospital, City of Midland spokesman Ryan Stout told the AP. Seven of the injured are in critical condition, while the 10 others are in stable condition, he said. The float was occupied by disabled veterans from across the U.S., including amputees and those who had suffered severe burns in combat, along with their spouses.
About two dozen veterans and their spouses had been sitting on the float, set up on the back of two tractor-trailers decorated with American flags and signs identifying each veteran. After the first flatbed crossed the tracks, the second was struck by the crossing-barrier arms, prompting veterans and their wives to scramble to abandon the float as the train rushed toward the crossing at approximately 55 m.p.h. Police said some of the people on the second trailer were able to evacuate before the crash.
The float had come from participating in the “Hunt for Heroes” parade and a tour of a veterans museum. The truck carried a banner which read “Heroes on Board.” It is so far unknown whether the the train crew saw the flatbed before the collision.
The parade was to end at a banquet honoring the veterans. They would then be given rifles and treated to a deer-hunting trip over the weekend; however, the events have been canceled.
Lange said Union Pacific will be giving help to the community and victims’ families. Furthermore, the railroad will provide counseling for the two-person train crew, who were not injured. Union Pacific had already begun investigation of the accident on Thursday night. The National Transportation Safety Board also is investigating. A preliminary investigation indicated that the crossing gate and lights were working. Investigators who walked the scene with flashlights Thursday nights noted that the train was unable to stop until about a mile after the point of impact.
Midland is about 320 miles west of Dallas. With a population of about 100,000, the city is known for its high-rise office buildings, extensive connections to the oil industry, and President George W. Bush’s childhood home. Organizers of the Hunt for Heroes event within the Midland community have begun to investigate how they can provide further support to the victim’s families.