Staff and wire report
A train carrying dozens of Republican members of Congress to a strategy retreat in the countryside slammed into a garbage truck in rural Virginia on Wednesday, killing one person in the vehicle and sending several lawmaker-doctors rushing to help the injured.
No serious injuries were reported aboard the chartered Amtrak train, which set out from the nation’s capital with lawmakers, family members and staff for the luxury Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. At least two other people in the truck were seriously hurt.
The collision happened around 11:20 a.m. in Crozet, about 125 miles southwest of Washington, tearing the truck in two, crumpling the nose of the locomotive and scattering trash alongside the tracks.
U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, who was on the train, described the collision as “a pretty scary moment.”
Johnson, of Marietta, R-6th, said Wednesday, “I was just sitting down, and all of a sudden, boom, we hit something and the train came to an abrupt stop. It was a loud thump and a lurch forward. We weren’t going too fast.”
Johnson said he’s not injured.
“I could be better right now, but we’re safe,” he said. “We don’t know much more than the train hit a truck.”
Johnson said he didn’t see anyone on the train fall out of their seats.
Johnson represents 18 counties including all of Columbiana County and southern Mahoning County.
U.S. Senator Rob Portman, a Republican from the Cincinnati area, said he and his wife, Jane, were on the train at the time of the crash.
“We are both fine,” he said. “We are keeping those who were injured in our prayers and are grateful for the first responders who quickly arrived on the scene.”
Rep. Robert Pittenger of North Carolina said he was standing at the train’s refreshment stand, waiting to be served a soft drink, when he felt “an enormous slam. ... It was a huge jolt. We all hung on to whatever we had.”
He said he looked out the window and saw a big pile of garbage, and it appeared the train had pushed the truck for a few hundred yards.
Authorities gave no details on the cause of the wreck, which took place at a crossing protected by gates, flashing lights, bells and warning signs. The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team to investigate.
Benny Layne, on whose property the truck landed, said the crossing arms had been known to malfunction, sometimes coming down even though no train was approaching. Sometimes, he said, they stayed down for hours.
He said motorists would get out of their cars to help guide other motorists around the malfunctioning arms in order to cross the tracks.
“A guy was up here just yesterday or the day before taking a look at them,” he said.
Carrie Brown, human resources manager at Buckingham Branch Railroad, which leases the stretch of track and is responsible for maintenance, said she was unaware of any problems with equipment at the crossing.
Florida Rep. Neal Dunn, a former Army surgeon, said he and other lawmakers who are doctors joined other passengers who are nurses or paramedics and jumped out with the basic medical gear they had. They broke into three teams to help the injured people in the truck, he said.
“The first gentleman was somebody who had really, really, really devastating injuries. We did try to resuscitate, but ultimately you had to realize it wasn’t possible,” Dunn said. He said another man in the truck was critically injured and a third was seriously hurt.
Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and his wife, both doctors, were among those who came to the rescue.
“My role was quite simple: I picked up his feet so the blood in his feet would go to his heart and his brain,” Cassidy said.
Officials gave varying figures on the number hurt. But Amtrak said two crew members and three passengers were taken to a hospital with minor injuries.
Minnesota Rep. Jason Lewis’ staff tweeted that the first-term congressman was among those taken to the hospital and was being checked for a possible concussion. Others aboard the train reported bumps, bruises and sore joints.