Official: Parade that ended with deadly crash lacked right-of-way permit

By COREY PAUL | Odessa American, Texas | Published: November 21, 2012

ODESSA, Texas — The veteran’s parade that ended a tragic train crash last week lacked a right-of-way permit, a Midland city official said Tuesday.

The crash killed four wounded veterans and injured 16 other riders Thursday. It was part of a weekend organized by the Midland group Show of Support meant to honor the veterans.

“The City of Midland did not issue a permit nor did the city receive a permit application from the Show of Support organization,” Midland spokesperson Ryan Stout said.

According to the city’s Code of Ordinances, “No procession, excepting the forces of the United States Army or Navy, the military forces of this state, and the forces of the police and fire departments, shall occupy, march or proceed along any street except in accordance with a permit issued by the chief of police and such other regulations as are set forth in this Title which may apply. The above does not apply to funeral processions.”

That ordinance has been in place since it was written in 1953, Stout said.

Midland City Manager Courtney Sharp has said most parade organizers seek permits, but a parade such as “Hunt for Heroes” might not since it’s been going on for nine years and the city expects it. Police escorted the parade Thursday.

A dozen veterans rode beside their wives on a trailer pulled by a truck, as it entered the crossing at South Garfield Street and West Industrial Avenue, seconds after the lights and bells activated and just after the crossing gate began to lower. The truck also carried two civilian escorts. A Union Pacific train more than 7,000 feet long and traveling 62 mph slammed into them at 4:36 p.m.

Questions linger about the driver of the truck. The San Antonio Express-News first identified the driver as Dale Andrew Hayden, a 50-year-old veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lawyers representing Hayden and Smith Industries, the company that provided the truck used in the parade and employs Hayden, could not be reached for comment by the Odessa American but told other media that Hayden is under a physician’s care and hadn’t spoken to investigators with the National Transportation and Safety Board, as of Tuesday afternoon.

NTSB investigators conducted a visual test at the site of the accident to determine who saw what and when.

The investigators used a truck lent by Smith Industries and a Union Pacific train pulling 10 rail cars for the sight-distance test

They positioned the truck in spots where it was located moments before the tragic crash, with its trailer a few feet away from the rails. Investigators also positioned the train at the center of the crossing, reversed the truck until its trailer was just in front. Some snapped photos as others watched from a crane. 

Investigators also positioned the truck’s cab as in front of the rails and on top of them to determine what the train and truck drivers could see. 

The test lasted about three hours. Afterward, investigators offered no comments.

Union Pacific officials watched. So did a pair of lawyers representing Sgt. 1st Class Richard Sanchez and his wife, Heather Sanchez.

Richard Sanchez, like fellow veterans, pushed his wife from the float as the train approached. He broke his back in the crash, and now he's the last victim who remains in Midland Memorial Hospital, where he's unable to move his legs, according to Bob Pottroff, one of his attorneys.

The veterans killed were Army Sgt. Maj. Lawrence Boivin, 47; Army Sgt. Joshua Michael, 34; Marine Chief Warrant Officer Gary Stouffer, 37; and Sgt. Maj. William Lubbers, 43.

Pottroff and his co-counsel, Kevin Glasheen of Lubbock, reasserted their intent to focus their investigation on the crossing.

The lights and bells activated at 20 seconds, which is the federal minimum, said NTSB board member Mark Rosekind.

But Pottroff has said he suspects the designed warning time for the crossing is higher, based on state and train company standards for similar crossings.

Glasheen responded to news that organizers never sought a permit.

"It remains to be seen whether that would have had any effect on the accident," Glasheen said. "We still think the root cause of the accident is the short signal that the truck got: 20 seconds just isn't enough."

The attorneys said they are now representing “several” other victims, but they declined to specify how many. They have not filed suit yet.

It remains unclear whether parade or city officials coordinated the parade with Union Pacific.


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