Local News

Passengers from NC describe deadly train crash

Posted February 4, 2018 7:39 p.m. EST
Updated July 13, 2018 9:56 a.m. EDT

— Several people on the train that crashed in South Carolina early Sunday morning have connections to North Carolina.

Andre Neblett, a former Carolina Panthers player, said his mother was on the train.

"It was chaos," Neblett said after driving to the scene of the crash from North Carolina to retrieve his mother's suitcase from a Red Cross shelter. "She said she was just waiting on somebody to get to her. We see stuff like this on the news all the time, but here it's touched my family close, and we just thank God that she's okay."

Matthew Cheeseman, a train crash survivor from North Carolina, described the terrifying scene.

"Oh, we felt the impact," said Cheeseman. "That thing threw us across the room like you would not believe. I just got rug-burn on my back. The impact woke everybody up, I can certainly say that. And then the bouncing of the other cars and then the derailment of our own car -- absolutely, you could feel the impact."​

The Amtrak passenger train slammed into a parked freight train around 2:30 a.m. outside Columbia, South Carolina, after a thrown switch sent it hurtling down a side track, authorities said. Two Amtrak crew members were killed, and more than 100 people were injured.

It was the third deadly wreck involving Amtrak in less than two months. The Silver Star, en route from New York to Miami with nearly 150 people aboard, was going an estimated 59 mph when it struck the empty CSX train around 2:45 a.m., Gov. Henry McMaster said.

Officials said the switch was locked in a way that caused the train to divert onto the side tracks.

Amtrak's online train schedule for train 91 — the Silver Star — shows a scheduled stop in Raleigh at 9:01 p.m. and then a stop in Cary at 9:23 p.m. The train then continued on its route toward Columbia on its way to its final destination in Miami, Florida.

Many of the passengers were asleep when the crash jolted them awake.

"I thought that I was dead," said passenger Eric Larkin, of Pamlico County, North Carolina, who was dazed and limping after banging his knee.

Larkin said he was on his way to Florida when he was awoken by the crash. The train was shaking and jumping, and his seat broke loose, slamming him into the row in front of him, he said. He said he heard screams all around him as he tried to get out. Other passengers were bleeding.

Of the more than 100 injured, more than 60 were sent to hospitals, and at least six were admitted. Others were given shelter at a nearby school manned by the Red Cross.