Web writes: "I was a newspaper reporter for about 40 years and this 1967 incident of carnage was the worst ever."
It was so awful that I trembled and almost disassembled.
In my more than 40 years of reporting for newspapers -- before and afterwards -- I have never seen such an overwhelming accident.
Migrant workers had been in the back end of a pickup truck near Mesa, Wash., some 20 miles north of Pasco. The pickup had been southbound on State Route 17 -- probably from Othello to Pasco – which for several miles had run parallel to the main rail line between Spokane and Pasco. At a point just south of Mesa, the pickup had made a hard left turn to cross the tracks.
Apparently the pickup truck, driven by another migrant worker, had been racing the southbound freight to the crossing near where State Route 17 linked with U.S. 395. The pickup arrived at the crossing a fraction of a second ahead of the train, and went to make a 90-degree left-hand turn to cross the tracks.
It had been too late. The clearance had not been enough. Going 55 mph, the freight had smacked the pickup broadside, killing the 12-15 transient workers, and of course, demolishing the pickup.
When I, a reporter for the local daily, the Tri-City Herald, arrived 15 minutes after the accident, pieces of human anatomy were scattered along the tracks for more than a mile. Someone had put blankets over some of the segmented bodies, but blood was here and there.
I had a camera, but didn’t know where to start in photographing the grotesque, hellish scene. It was so ghastly, I almost couldn’t do it.
The train had tried to stop in time but that had taken more than a mile. The train engineer and fireman were apparently had flattened the steel wheels in trying to get the train stopped and were beside themselves in shock, horror and grief. At that moment they were at trackside, attempting to cooperate with authorities by answering questions.
Dozens of state Highway Patrolmen; Franklin County sheriff’s deputies and apparently a couple of railway officials were trying to control the situation, and determine what had happened.
One official-looking man, about 45, in a tweed sport coat, white shirt and tie, and gray slacks came over to where I was still shocked and dumbfounded at track side. The man was relatively cool.
He began asking me questions about what had happened – “Did you see the accident?” “Which way as the train going?” “What was the road vehicle, a pickup?” “Which way was it going?” “How many were in the pickup?” “Were they all killed?” “How about the driver?” “Is there a tracks-crossing signal on the highway?” Yattita yattita.
Finally, I asked, ”Who are you?”
“A railroad inspector… who are you?”
“Well, I’m a reporter for the Tri-City Herald.”
“The man looked at me in horror “What?”
He closed his mouth immediately. He beat a fast retreat, and then actually ran in the other direction.
When I got back to the newsroom, I told the city editor what had happened. Not the train tragedy -- as he already knew quite a bit about that -- but the confrontation I had had with the railway inspector.
“That train carnage was horrendous…bloody, just awful,” I said. “He was relatively cool about that. But when I mentioned that I was a news reporter, he got this horrified look on his face. Actually he looked terrified.”
The editor then proceeded to tell me the life and times of railroading: Railroad officials are notorious for doing that, he said, adding, when there’s a bad accident involving a railroad, company officials seldom say much about the details or the causes. They sometimes won’t say much until their investigation is complete, sometimes months later.
“They are usually tight lipped. That’s their job... to keep a lid on everything.”
“Yeah? Well, he certainly looked terrified when I told him I was a news reporter.”
The editor said something like that rail investigator doesn’t sound like he’s a very Christian person. “It looks like you nailed him when he was trying to play God.”
(© 2013 Web Ruble – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)