One killed after train carrying GOP lawmakers hits truck in Virginia
A train carrying Republican lawmakers to their GOP retreat in West Virginia collided with a dump truck in the crossing grade on Wednesday, leaving one truck passenger dead and several members of Congress with minor injuries.
No major injuries have been reported on the train, which crashed in Crozet, Va., about 15 miles outside Charlottesville. But lawmakers described a terrifying scene in the small rural town, as both members and first responders raced to save the seriously injured passengers on the tracks.
At least two others in the truck sustained injuries in the wreck. The University of Virginia Medical Center said a total of five patients were transported to the hospital, including one in critical condition.
Buses were en route to pick up the stranded lawmakers, with the retreat scheduled to go on as planned, though the program will be adjusted to include a moment of prayer for those involved in the crash as well as a security briefing from the Sergeant at Arms and United States Capitol Police.
“After consultation with leadership in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, the retreat will proceed with an adjusted program. Our thoughts and prayers are with those impacted by today’s incident,” said a spokesperson for the Congressional Institute.
The three-day annual gathering at the Greenbrier resort will kick off Wednesday evening, with appearances from President Trump, Vice President Pence and several Cabinet members slated throughout the rest of the week.
Trump spoke to Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) by phone about the crash, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. Ryan was on the train but was not injured, according to his office.
“There is one confirmed fatality and one serious injury. There are no serious injuries among members of Congress or their staff. Senior administration officials are in regular contact with Amtrak and state and local authorities. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone that has been affected by this incident,” Sanders said in a statement.
There were 3 people in the truck that was straddling the track and which the train hit. One is dead. One I am told is being transported but has minor injuries. One has serious injuries—please pray. Laura & I & multiple other physicians tended to the patients until EMTs showed up. https://t.co/qAmoofxakV
— Bill Cassidy (@BillCassidy) January 31, 2018
First responders were on the scene treating minor injuries on the train and more serious injuries on the ground, while some lawmakers, who are also doctors, raced to get off the train and help administer medical assistance.
“They were actually the first person on the scene as far as I could tell. … They were the first ones rendering assistance,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). “They were administering CPR to the folks who had been hurt in the crash.”
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) described a “hard” collision and said he was “thankful the train was able to stay on the tracks.”
Some members on the train “hit the deck” upon impact, causing a “couple of bumps and bruises,” according to aides.
Lawmakers said that the impact was so severe that it tossed some passengers from their seats and sent stray objects flying through the cabin. Others had been standing around conversing with their colleagues when the train struck the garbage truck.
“It was quite a jolt. We had some water right in front of us, flying all over. It took me 10 minutes to find my phone, which was thrown somewhere,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said on CNN. “It was quite an impact.”
Rep. Jason Lewis (R-Minn.), who was on the train, told Fox News that he had whiplash and possibly a minor concussion.
The impact “threw a lot of people’s heads into the seats … people who were in the aisle fell down. You have some minor injuries but as far as I am aware they were just that,” he said.
Lewis was taken away from the crash on a stretcher, wearing a neck brace, according to a GOP lawmaker who witnessed the scene. He was taken from the scene in a first responder’s vehicle for further evaluation.
We’re fine, but our train hit a garbage truck. Members with medical training are assisting the drivers of the truck. pic.twitter.com/0I9jOwHTmb
— Rep. Greg Walden (@repgregwalden) January 31, 2018
— Jeff Denham (@RepJeffDenham) January 31, 2018
Amtrak said the chartered train departed Union Station in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday morning and crashed into another vehicle on the tracks about 11:20 a.m. in Crozet.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it has launched a go-team to investigate the crash.
Both House and Senate members were on the train, including some spouses, children and staff members, though it’s unclear how many. Zeldin said not everyone in the GOP conference was on the train, and several indicated on social media they took alternate transportation to the retreat.
Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), whose wife was accompanying him on the trip, described the scary scene to The Hill.
“Big thud. I was in my seat and it whips you,” Webster said. “My wife looked out of the window and saw the front of a Mack truck and it just ripped the front off it.”
“The people standing got thrown. They called up all the doctors in the conference. Seven to eight doctors,” he added. “There were a few in our cabin who got thrown.”
There have been a string of high-profile crashes at highway-rail crossing grades in recent years, including a 2015 incident that killed five Metro-North passengers and the driver of an SUV that was stopped on the train tracks at the crossing.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has made improving the safety at crossing grades a top priority, including an ad campaign last year aimed at discouraging people from trying to speed across the tracks before a train passes.
– Cristina Marcos, Jordan Fabian and Scott Wong contributed to this report, which was last updated at 2:56 p.m.