Texas parade honoring war heroes ends in tragedy
BY JUAN CARLOS LLORCA Associated Press
Saturday, November 17, 2012
11/17/12 at 6:03 AM
Cheered on by a flag-waving crowd, a parade float filled with wounded veterans and their spouses was inching across a railroad track when the crossing gates began to lower and a freight train that seemed to come out of nowhere was suddenly bearing down on them
Some of those seated on the float jumped off in wide-eyed terror just moments before the train crashed into the flatbed truck.
Four veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan - including an Army sergeant who apparently sacrificed his life to save his wife - were killed Thursday afternoon and 16 people were injured.
For some of the veterans who managed to jump clear of the wreck, training and battlefield instinct instantly kicked in, and they rushed to help the injured, applying tourniquets and putting pressure on wounds.
"They are trained for tragedy," said Pam Shoemaker of Monroe, La., who was with her husband, a special operations veteran, on a float ahead of the one that was hit.
Killed were Marine Chief Warrant Officer 3 Gary Stouffer, 37; Army Sgt. Maj. Lawrence Boivin, 47; Army Sgt. Joshua Michael, 34; and Army Sgt. Maj. William Lubbers, 43. One veteran and three spouses remained hospitalized Friday, with one spouse in critical condition.
A day after the crash, federal investigators were trying to determine how fast the train was going and whether the two-float parade had been given enough warning to clear the tracks.
And locals were struggling to cope with a tragedy at the start of what was supposed to be a three-day weekend of banquets, deer hunting and shopping in appreciation of the veterans' sacrifice.
"It's just a very tragic and sad thing," said Michael McKinney of Show of Support, the local charity that organizes the annual event and invited the two dozen veterans. "It's difficult when you're trying to do something really good and something tragic occurs."
National Transportation Safety Board member Mark Rosekind offered hope Friday that video would provide a fuller picture of what happened. Cameras were on the lead car of the Union Pacific train and a sheriff's vehicle that was trailing the flatbed truck, Rosekind said.
The train was moving at 62 mph at the time of the crash, short of the 70 mph speed limit, Rosekind said. The speed limit was raised from 40 mph in 2006 to meet a growing demand for freight and to improve efficiency for passenger trains, Union Pacific spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza said.
Michael, one of the soldiers killed, pushed his wife off the float when he saw the train coming, his wife told Cory Rogers, a friend of the couple.
"His first instinct was to get her out of harm's way," Rogers said.
Original Print Headline: Vets react quickly after train hits parade
Rob Fields holds up the blood type of his wife, Laura, outside the packed United Blood Services in Midland, Texas, where a call for type O-negative blood was made after a parade float was struck by a train. JAMES DURBIN/Reporter-Telegram/AP