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november 15, 2012 • 07:50 PM

Four killed, 17 hurt as train hits float at Texas veterans parade

 

A train crashed into a parade float carrying U.S. military veterans and their spouses in West Texas on Thursday, killing four people and injuring 17, police and parade organizers said.

Ten of the hospitalized were in critical condition and seven others were listed as stable, said Midland Police Chief Price Robinson.

Robinson said the Union Pacific train struck an open trailer carrying the veterans and their spouses as it was being pulled across the train tracks at around 4:30 p.m.

"It's hard to look at. It's a very tragic event, very unfortunate," Robinson said, speaking from the site of the accident.

The float was carrying veterans through Midland to a banquet in their honor, said Sonny Cleere, an organizer of the Hunt for Heroes event in San Angelo, Texas.

Hours after the accident, a float was still sitting near the train tracks, white poster board adorning the side and about a dozen empty chairs sitting on the trailer bed.

The parade kicked off a weekend of events, including the banquet and a hunting expedition, to honor wounded veterans, Cleere said. Those events have now been canceled.

A Union Pacific spokesman said the National Transportation Safety Board was involved in the crash investigation, and referred all questions to that agency. A spokeswoman for the NTSB said investigators were on their way to the scene.

Many of the 25 West Texas veterans being honored served multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to biographies posted on a website created by event organizers. They were described as having been shot on the battlefield or wounded by improvised explosive devices.

Some described suffering traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of their deployments, the biographies said.

The Pentagon said in a statement that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who is traveling in Asia, "was deeply saddened by news of the tragic accident" involving the veterans and their spouses.

Tracy Scott, a Midland oilfield worker who did not witness the crash but arrived at the scene later, told Reuters the train did not derail, but continued to move roughly half a mile past where the collision occurred before coming to a stop.

Photos posted on the website of The Midland Reporter-Telegram showed a double-decker freight train stopped at the road crossing, with debris scattered around a flatbed trailer and chairs in disarray after tumbling off the parade float. Each chair had the name of a veteran below it.

A second flatbed truck carrying soldiers and spouses cleared the train tracks without being struck, police said.

Some of those aboard the trailer that was hit managed to jump off before the collision, police added.

Authorities did not immediately release the names of those injured or killed.

(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart in Cambodia; Writing and additional reporting by Mary Slosson; Editing by Dan Whitcomb, Greg McCune and Peter Cooney)

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