MIDLAND (AP/CBSDFW.COM) – Officials in a West Texas city where four wounded veterans died when a train hit their parade float wouldn’t say Friday why they won’t pursue criminal charges against the driver.
City spokeswoman Sara Higgins said the police report isn’t finished but investigators “wanted to get it out” that Midland resident Dale Andrew Hayden, 50, won’t be charged.
She said the reasons against filing charges would be explained in the completed report, which is expected to be done within the next week. The report will then go to the district attorney, Higgins said.
Hayden was driving a flatbed truck carrying wounded veterans and their wives in a Nov. 15 parade when it was hit by a Union Pacific train traveling 62 mph. The National Transportation Safety Board says Hayden ventured onto the track after the warning signals started flashing and before the arms had descended.
The NTSB said the device was activated within 20 seconds of the train’s arrival, the minimum standard required by federal regulations. However, Texas Department of Transportation documents made public last month indicate that the device was designed to activate at 30 seconds.
Midland County prosecutor Steve Stallings said the district attorney’s office would review the report and a decision on potential charges would come afterward.
“We do it all the time,” Stallings said of cases in which police don’t pursue charges but the district attorney decides otherwise. “If it establishes someone is criminally culpable we’ll present it to a grand jury. If we believe that offense is a felony, sure we will.”
Hayden’s attorney, Hal Brockett, did not immediately return a call seeking comment Friday.
Hayden was placed on medical leave shortly after the accident and underwent counseling, Brockett has said.
Earlier this week, Brockett said Hayden was “doing better” and thought he might have gone back to work at Smith Industries, Inc., which owned the truck. But Brockett wasn’t sure.
Hayden did not immediately return a call left at his workplace.
Investigators with the NTSB have not talked with Hayden, agency spokesman Peter Knudson said in an email response.
“We have put in a request to interview the driver,” he wrote. “He has not refused the interview but he has not yet made himself available.”
The truck Hayden drove was the second of two parade floats filled with wounded war veterans. The first float had already cleared the tracks when the accident happened.
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. Sixteen people were injured.
The parade was organized by a group called Show of Support-Hunt for Heroes and has been an annual event in Midland for nine years. It was supposed to be the start of a three-day weekend of banquets, deer hunting and shopping in appreciation of the veterans’ service.
Organizers did not have the proper permits for the parade, officials said.
A lawsuit has been filed that claims negligence and recklessness on the part of Union Pacific Railroad Inc. and Smith Industries led to the collision. Four people who were on the float filed the suit and others were expected to join the action, an attorney for the two couples said. No amount for monetary damages was specified.
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