Screams Fill 911 Calls after Fatal SC Train Crash

Tuesday, 22 Mar 2011 03:54 PM

 

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Witnesses to the weekend wreck of a children's train ride that killed one boy flooded authorities with 911 calls pleading for help while describing a bloody, chaotic scene, audio recordings released Tuesday showed.

"Hurry. There's a whole bunch," one caller said in the audio, obtained by The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act. "One kid's leg almost tore off. One kid's not breathing."

"The train fell off the bridge, and there were a bunch of little kids on it," another called said. "It's a bloody mess," said another.

The callers were reporting scenes from Spartanburg's Cleveland Park, where a nearly 60-year-old train went off its tracks Saturday and toppled off a bridge, killing 6-year-old passenger Benji Easler and injuring 28 others. Injuries ranged from bumps and bruises to broken bones and some of the children were carried off in stretchers.

In one call, a woman describes a boy turning blue while two people perform CPR.

On Tuesday, the mother of the man driving that train told The Associated Press her son is distraught over the death of a 6-year-old boy in the wreck, the man's mother told AP Tuesday.

"I don't think this has hit Matt yet," Virginia Conrad said by telephone from her home in Winnsboro of her son, 42-year-old Matt Conrad. "He looks like a football player, but inside he is like soft ice cream. ... I still believe he is in shock."

Matt Conrad, who was also injured, told police he knew he was driving too fast just before tragedy struck, according to documents released Tuesday.

"I was going too (expletive) fast," Conrad told a police officer riding with him to the hospital after Saturday's crash, according to incident reports released by the Spartanburg Public Safety Department.

Authorities have not said what caused the crash, but Conrad's statement bolsters comments from witnesses who said the train sped up during its third lap around the downtown Spartanburg park.

Many of those on the train were members of Corinth Baptist Church in Gaffney, where Benji Easler's father is a pastor. A minister acting as their spokesman said passengers told him the train was speeding up on its final circuit.

"All of my people said the train got faster and faster," Ellis said. "They felt like it was increasing in speed and something was wrong."

The ride, which opened a week early because of warm weather, was supposedly checked by a state inspector last Wednesday and allowed to open for operation. But after the crash, the inspector came forward to say that he had falsified his report and had not checked the train's speed because its battery was dead.

State officials said the inspector was fired Monday.

Virginia Conrad described her son as a kind parent who would never intentionally harm anyone and who rushed to help his passengers after the crash.

"When he did come to, he joined the rest. He helped to rescue people," she said. "He walked the train and helped those that he could."

A train enthusiast from a young age, Conrad is a railroad history buff who loves his job driving children on the train at Cleveland park, his mother said.

"This has hit him terribly hard," Virginia Conrad said.

___

Associated Press Writer Jeffrey Collins contributed to this report.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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