The West Virginia Public Service Commission has joined the investigation into last week’s accident between a logging truck and a passenger train in southern Randolph County.
“The PSC has been involved because they oversee utilities, including logging operations,” said Lawrence Messina with the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. “This really falls under their jurisdiction. The Randolph County Sheriff’s Department still is leading the investigation. Any information the PSC obtains will be provided to the sheriff’s department.”
The PSC is working to determine the weight of the loaded log truck in hopes of garnering some information into the cause of the accident. PSC officials also are attempting to completely reconstruct the vehicle, which should help to provide additional insight, Messina added.
“This is a very difficult, painstaking process,” Messina said. “There is very little left of the cab of the truck. It was obliterated.”
The driver of the truck, Danny Lee Kimble Sr., was killed in the accident, and 23 people were injured. Despite initial reports, three people were transported after the incident on Friday from Davis Memorial Hospital to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown. Two individuals still were hospitalized Tuesday afternoon. One patient, a male, is listed in fair condition, while a second – a female patient – is listed in good condition. A spokesman for Ruby Memorial said one other patient – a female – was released Tuesday afternoon.
The train, which was on a fall-foliage excursion, was traveling 10 miles per hour crossing U.S. 250 when the accident occurred, state officials said Tuesday afternoon.
“I’ve been told that the engineer of the train saw the truck approaching and tried to speed up to clear the intersection and then, after the collision, the conductor of the train ran a third of a mile to the nearby station to call for help,” Messina said. “Emergency responders from Randolph County and Pocahontas County were on scene within 15 minutes of the crash.”
According to a press release from the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad, within 30 minutes responders from other nearby counties and cities were at the scene to help tend to and transport the injured.
Agencies responding at the scene included the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office, Elkins Hazmat Special Response, Marlinton Rescue, Cass Rescue, Randolph County EMS, Shaver’s Fork Fire Rescue, Beverly Fire Department, the West Virginia State Police, Pocahontas Memorial Hospital, Davis Memorial Hospital, Tygarts Valley Fire Company, Valley Head Fire Department, Webster County Emergency Service, Webster Springs Volunteer Fire Department, the Durbin, Bartow and Frank fire departments and the U.S. Army.
“I think Randolph County should be proud,” said Randolph County Sheriff Mark Brady. “We prepare for these type of events, but hope they never happen. But when things like this do come into play, the training pays off. All the emergency workers and law enforcement worked together hand in hand. Everyone knew their task and what to do. The community even brought food to the personnel on the scene. It is a great tribute to the folks in Randolph County to pitch in and come together.
“We don’t really have any updates at this time,” Brady added. “We are waiting on reports from the medical examiner’s office and the PSC. It could be a while before we get those reports back, but we are still obtaining statements from some of the people involved.”
Work crews were able to right the train cars and reopen U.S. 250 Saturday. The passenger cars were shifted down the tracks about 200 yards from the accident site, and will eventually be transferred to Belington where repairs will be attempted.
“We will be getting those cars out of there soon, and assess whether they can be rebuilt or not,” said John Smith, president of the Durbin & Greenbrier Railroad. “The construction of these cars is very solid. They are built so solid that they didn’t crumple in the accident. Consequently, most of the injuries were from people falling out of their seats on top of each other. There wasn’t even that much glass that broke during the accident. The cars simply fell over onto their sides. The impact was just monstrous.”
Smith plans to meet with local and federal officials, as well as representatives from the insurance industry, today to talk about the aftermath of the incident.
“I think we need to take what happened here and get together to discuss it,” Smith said. “We need to talk about how we proceed and how we make things safer and more effective.”
In addition, state railroad officials will be at the accident site today to assess damage and recommend repairs, Messina said. Repairs already are underway on the tracks, but safety devices likely will need repaired and adjusted.
Smith said the remainder of the Cheat Mountain Salamander’s season has been canceled, but the company is adding spots to its other offerings to compensate. The Salamander is one of four excursion trains operated by the railroad.
– Contact Matthew Burdette at 304-636-2121, ext. 120 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at IMT- Burdette.