BILOXI, MISS. - Four people are dead and 35 have been injured after a charter bus was struck by a train in Biloxi, Miss. on Tuesday.
Two of the four killed were identified Tuesday evening as Ken and Peggy Hoffman, both former Lockhart ISD administrators. Lockhart ISD Superintendent Susan Bohn released the following statement on their deaths:
Ken and Peggy served us as colleagues, teachers, and leaders in our community. We feel their loss deeply across the district, remembering the mark that they made upon us and upon a generation of children in our community.
The Hoffmans had a number of family members who currently work in LISD, and our thoughts and prayers are with them especially at this time. To those of you who had the opportunity to know, learn from, and love the Hoffmans, please accept my sincerest condolences on behalf of your LISD family.
Please join me in supporting each other as we grieve, and praying for Ken and Peggy’s family. The district will share information about arrangements when it becomes available.
KVUE News has learned that the Hoffmans have four family members who work for Lockhart ISD. Their daughter Melissa Messerly is a teacher at Carver Early Education Center, granddaughter Kelly Molitor is a counselor at ML Cisneros Freshman Campus, granddaughter Tara Chapman is a teacher at Plum Creek Elementary, and grandson Aubrey Vogt is a teacher at Lockhart Junior High.
On Wednesday, the coroner in Biloxi identified the other victims as Clinton Havran, 82, of Sealy, and Deborah Orr, 62, of Bastrop.
The first group of victims who were not injured in the crash arrived back in Bastrop at the First National Bank at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday evening.
A fund has been set up at First National Bank of Bastrop to benefit those in the crash. People can call 512-321-2561 for more information or to donate. The account is titled the Biloxi Senior Trip Fund and the account number is 2142222.
Biloxi Police Chief John Miller said the crash happened at a railroad crossing on Main Street shortly after 2 p.m. Tuesday. The Bastrop Senior Center confirmed to KVUE that 27 members and 24 other people were on board the bus for a seven-day trip. The bus got stuck at the crossing, and the center said the driver opened the doors for people to get out.
The National Transportation Safety Board said in a Wednesday afternoon briefing that the train was traveling around 26 mph when it was put into "emergency" mode around 500 feet from the crossing and was attempting to stop the train at the time of the crash. The train struck the bus traveling around 19 mph and pushed the bus around 300 feet from the level crossing, the NTSB added.
According to Julia Clark with American Medical Response in Harrison County, Miss., three people were initially killed and 10 others were in critical condition. Another 10 were listed in serious condition with 15 said to be 'walking wounded,' and the rest did not need medical attention. One of those critically injured died at a hospital around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, bringing the total number of deaths to four.
Mary Lucas, a trip organizer who survived the crash, said she was sitting behind the bus driver when the bus became stuck on the train tracks.
Lucas said the bus driver opened the door and told the passengers to get out.
"And I ran, just as far as I could," Lucas said. "And it hit the bus and all hell broke out."
Ameet Patel, Senior Vice President of Regional Operations for Penn National Gaming, told WLOX that the bus was traveling from Hollywood in Bay St. Louis to Boomtown in Biloxi.
It is with deep regret and sympathy that we can confirm the private charter bus that collided with a train this afternoon in Biloxi was transporting patrons from our Hollywood Gulf Coast Casino in Bay St. Louis to our Boomtown Biloxi Casino approximately 45 miles away. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who tragically lost their lives and all those affected by this accident. As this is an ongoing law enforcement matter, we are withholding any further comment and are referring all calls to the Biloxi Police Department, with whom we are cooperating fully on their investigation.
CSX, who operates the train, issued the following statement on the crash:
CSX personnel are working with first responders at a collision of a freight train and passenger bus in Biloxi, Miss. The collision this afternoon occurred at the Main Street crossing. The eastbound mixed freight train, traveling from New Orleans to Mobile, Ala., had three locomotives and 52 cars – 27 loaded cars and 25 empty cars. The crossing has flashing lights and crossing gates. Authorities in Biloxi report four fatalities and many injuries, and our thoughts are with all involved. The train crew was not injured. CSX is cooperating fully with investigators.
The charter bus was operated by ECHO Transportation, issued the following comment to KVUE on Wednesday:
First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and families of this terrible tragedy. We are working closely with local, state and federal authorities, providing full cooperation to determine what happened. Due to the ongoing investigation, we cannot provide additional details at this time.
Gov. Greg Abbott issued the following statement on the Biloxi crash:
“Cecilia and I are deeply saddened by the loss of life in this tragic accident, and we extend our prayers to the families who lost loved ones and to all those affected by this tragedy.”
Miss. Gov. Phil Bryant issued the following statement on the crash:
“I have been briefed by law enforcement and emergency management officials and am thankful for the quick action and great work by first responders. Please join me and Deborah in praying for the injured and the families of the lost.
The KVUE Defenders looked at federal inspection records for ECHO, and learned the company has had six crashes in the last two years before Tuesday. One of those crashes resulted in an injury. The bus that was struck by the train was inspected three times in the last year and had zero violations.
WLOX reported in January that a Pepsi truck had also become stuck on the track and was struck by a train. No injuries were reported in that crash.
VIDEO: Bastrop Senior Center and county authorities brief on crash:
A National Transportation Safety Board official who was involved in the 2016 Lockhart balloon crash investigation will oversee the investigation into the crash.
"Our mission is not only to find out what happened, but why it happened and that's critical so we can keep accidents like this, tragedies like this, from happening in the future," NTSB board member Robert Sumwal said Wednesday.
NTSB said the full investigation could take up to a year.
In a press conference Thursday, Robert Sumwalt with NTSB said the bus was not traveling on the planned route. It is not yet clear why. He said the NTSB has not spoken to the bus driver yet, but that the driver was required to take a drug/alcohol test.
Sumwalt said NTSB does not always investigate railroad crossing deaths, but took an interest in this one because of the history of the crossing.
On Wednesday, Austin attorney Rico Reyes filed a lawsuit on behalf of Peggy Hoffman's grandson and her estate against the bus company and construction company responsible for the railroad crossing in Biloxi.
Reyes said they are seeking $75,000 in damages, but attorneys said that number could rise.
Wednesday evening, an attorney working on the lawsuit said that they believe the accident was preventable.
On Thursday, a second lawsuit was announced on behalf of Darwyn and Marie Hanna against Echo Tours and Charters LP.
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