WASHINGTON (AP) — There were 10 previous collisions at the West Texas railroad crossing where a train slammed into a parade float carrying wounded veterans and their families, according to Federal Railroad Administration records reviewed by The Associated Press.
Five cars and five trucks have been struck by trains or rail equipment at the Garfield railroad crossing in Midland since 1979. Six drivers were injured in the accidents but there were no fatalities.
The trains involved in the previous collisions were moving slowly at the time — between 15 mph and 25 mph. The most recent incident was in December 1997 when a rail car moving at 5 mph struck a car crossing the tracks, injuring the driver.
Two cars and a tractor-trailer truck were struck by trains while the vehicles were stopped on the crossing. In the other incidents, the vehicles were in the process of crossing the tracks.
At least four veterans were killed and 16 other people were injured Thursday when a train struck a tractor-trailer truck towing the float that was stopped on the crossing. The truck was towing the float to a banquet to honor the veterans.
Texas had 822 railroad crossing accidents during the three years ending in December 2011, or 9.8 percent of crossing accidents nationally, according to the railroad administration. That was more than any other state during the period. California was second with 506 accidents, or 6 percent of the national total.
The Garfield crossing was equipped with two gates, pavement markings and railroad crossing symbols, train signals and a bell, records show. There was no highway stop sign.
The four veterans killed when a freight train barreled into the parade float they were riding on weren’t ordinary men. Three were Purple Heart recipients who served on the front lines multiple times in Iraq and Afghanistan. The fourth was awaiting approval for a Purple Heart.
They survived gunshots, explosions and grenade attacks that left them with brain injuries that slurred their speech and made it difficult to walk. One had wife back home battling cancer while he fought through a brain injury in Iraq after an improved explosive device hit his truck. Another was starting a new career with a defense contractor after retiring from more than two decades as a decorated soldier. They were husbands. Fathers. Warriors.
The men had traveled to Midland from all over the country for a hunting trip organized to honor their service and to spend a weekend with those who would understand them best — their fellow veterans.
Here’s a look at them, compiled from interviews with friends and family, along with autobiographies they wrote for the website of Show of Support, the group that organized the parade and hunting trip.
Army Sgt. Joshua Michael, 34, was coming off a shift as a paramedic in Amarillo, Texas, when he heard about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“I knew what I had to do,” he wrote for Show of Support, the group that organized the parade and hunting trip. “I come from a long line of military and public servants; this was my calling.”
Michael also knew what to do Thursday. As the train hurtled down the tracks, he pushed his wife, Daylyn, off the float so she wasn’t injured, said a close friend, Cory Rogers.
Michaels described his wife as “amazing to say the least.” They had been through much together.
He was on his second tour of duty in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division in December 2005, when Daylyn gave him bad news: their infant daughter’s tear ducts hadn’t developed normally, and she needed surgery.
In January, there was worse news: Daylyn had thyroid cancer.
“During her radiation, I was injured for the first time,” Michael wrote. He suffered a traumatic brain injury when an IED hit his truck, but he wasn’t allowed to go home.
“We were too short manned,” he wrote, “and I had to just recover in theater under the supervision of a neurologist.”
Another IED hit Michael’s truck in April, breaking his ribs and rupturing his spleen. In September 2006, he was wounded a third time — another traumatic brain injury that sent him back to the U.S. for care at Fort Sam Houston and forced his retirement from the military.
Michael and his wife, who lived in the San Antonio area, dealt with their illnesses “like they were in the room together,” said Rogers, their friend. “You never would have known he was deployed overseas.”
Daylyn recovered from cancer, and the couple celebrated their 15th anniversary this year. Along with their daughter, Maci, now 7, they had a son, Ryan, 14.
“We have struggled together, laughed together, cried together, but most importantly stayed together,” Michael wrote.
Sgt. Maj. Gary Stouffer, 37, joined the Marines in college and served in Albania, Kosovo and twice in Iraq. He was injured during a tour in Afghanistan when an IED hit his vehicle during a resupply mission.
Stouffer was thrown inside the vehicle but didn’t realize the extent of injuries until he returned to the U.S. After nine months of tests, he was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and compression fractures in his neck and lower back.
Two years after the explosion, he was still undergoing speech and physical therapy, while waiting to find out if he had to take a medical retirement or could stay in the Marines on limited duty.
His dream was to serve for 30 years, he wrote for Show of Support. But, “after 17 awesome years, right now I will be happy to just see my way to officially retiring at 20 years.”
Stouffer, who lived in Newport, Pa., also was waiting for approval for a Purple Heart. He had been married to his wife, Catherine, for 16 years and had two children, Shannon, 16, and Shane, 12.
He particularly had been looking forward to the hunting trip.
“I have always enjoyed the outdoors and how it makes me feel,” he wrote, adding that, “It has always been a dream of mine to hunt in Texas.”
Sgt. Maj. Lawrence Boivin, 47, had started a new career with a defense contractor in North Carolina after his retirement from the Army.
He had served for 24 years, including a decade with special operations forces and tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He was wounded in April 2004 while helping train Marines in Iraq. Attacked from several directions at once, half of the Marines were wounded within the first few minutes. Boivin was hit by shrapnel and then a grenade, but continued to fight and provide cover as the Marines evacuated their wounded. His valor earned him a Silver Star and a Purple Heart.
His mother, Lucette Boivin, of Fayetteville, N.C., said she had worried about him when he was overseas but not when he headed to Texas for a pleasure trip. He planned to be in the parade, go hunting and visit one of his stepdaughters before returning to North Carolina on Monday, she said.
Instead, his younger brother, Danny, a sergeant major at Fort Bragg, was sent to Texas to pick up his body, Lucette Boivin said.
The Boivins moved to the U.S. from Canada 49 years ago. Larry Boivin had wanted to be a solider since he was a little boy, his mother said.
Along with the more recent wars, he served in the first Iraq war, earning a Bronze Star.
Boivin’s wife, Angela, an intensive care nurse, was with him in Texas. She suffered a back injury in the crash and was heavily medicated because of shock, said his niece, Felicia Wickes.
Army Sgt. Maj. William Lubbers, 43, spent 21 of his 24 years in the military with the U.S. Army Special Forces.
He was wounded in a 2005 ambush in Afghanistan, while on his second tour of duty there. Shot in the arm, he was sent back to the U.S. to recover.
He spent a month in the hospital and another 15 months in recovery at Fort Bragg, N.C., according to his autobiography for Show of Support. He had 13 surgeries.
When he was better, he went back to Afghanistan for two more tours.
Lubbers also spent a year on duty in Pakistan, according to his Show of Support autobiography. He earned a Purple Heart, three Bronze Stars and numerous other awards.
Lubbers and his wife, Tiffanie, had been married for 19 years. She also was on the float and was in serious condition Friday at University Medical Center in Lubbock, the Midland Reporter-Telegram reported.
The couple, who lived in Fayetteville, N.C., had two children, Zachary, 18, and Sydnie, 11.
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