A log truck driver killed in a collision with a train carrying 63 sightseers and four crewmembers on a fall foliage trek amid West Virginia's mountains apparently ran through crossing signals, authorities said.
Twenty-three people were injured, six seriously, in the rail crossing accident with U.S. Route 250 atop Cheat Mountain, about 160 miles east of Charleston, officials said. The accident occurred during prime leaf-watching season in the heavily forested eastern part of the state.
Randolph County Sheriff Mark Brady said two of the train's passenger cars flipped on their sides after impact at a rail crossing on a mountain highway, the log truck was a "total loss" and the truck driver who was alone in his vehicle was pronounced dead at the site.
Big, heavy logs lay piled about a scene where first responders aided shaken passengers to disembark from their scenic train ride.
"The railroad crossing signals were flashing at the scene. As all emergency personnel arrived, we observed the signals flashing at the time," Brady said in an audiotaped news conference held with hospital officials who emailed the audio recording to The Associated Press.
"At this juncture of the investigation, it appears that the log truck had run through the crossing signals and struck the passenger cars of the train," Brady added in the recorded statement provided to AP by Davis Memorial Hospital spokeswoman Tracy Fath.
She confirmed the injury total after all passengers and crew were taken to that hospital in Elkins, several miles distant from the collision site.
Brady didn't return calls immediately to The Associated Press seeking comment Friday evening about the accident, which he said involved a train of The Durbin & Greenbrier Railroad.
The Durbin & Greenbrier Railroad operates several trains in the area, including the Cheat Mountain Salamander that runs Tuesdays through Saturdays in October on a 6.5-hour trip. The railroad said there were three passenger cars Friday on the 88-mile roundtrip that left Elkins on a route taking passengers to elevations of more than 4,000 feet.
The train travels about 25 mph alongside a boulder-strewn river, crossing a bridge barely wider than the train, rumbling through an 1,800-foot tunnel and then passing an abandoned rail bridge.
A railroad executive did not immediately return calls for comment.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with all those involved and the emergency responders working the tragic accident in Randolph County this afternoon," Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said in a statement.
Tomblin spokeswoman Amy Shuler Goodwin said state Department of Environmental Protection crews were sent to the site to help clean up a large fuel spill. Goodwin said she didn't know if the spill came from the truck or the train.
Six of the injured were hospitalized in serious condition and two in stable condition, she said of the 23 people treated initially for injuries. She did not elaborate on their injuries but said four of those who had to be hospitalized were transferred to a Morgantown hospital while three remained in Davis Memorial.
Fath also said 42 others taken from the train by a school bus to the hospital were later found to be unharmed, despite early accounts by one official stating dozens of those were believed to have suffered lesser injuries.
She said those who weren't hurt received "comfort care" before leaving the hospital.
Authorities said the accident site is a rail crossing on U.S. Route 250 at a bridge on Cheat Mountain. There, the overturned passenger cars lay beside the tracks, roped off with yellow crime scene tape as police, firefighters and others looked on hours afterward.
The accident early Friday afternoon left the route indefinitely closed in the area as trafficked backed up nearby.
Randolph County emergency services director Jim Wise, the first to confirm there was a fatality, said he knew of no previous accident at that crossing in recent memory. He said the accident came on an overcast but typical, crisp fall day on a mountain tract ablaze with fall color.
"It was a pretty good impact," Wise told AP. "The tracks actually go across U.S. 250 there, right on top of the mountain."
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