Train Carrying Republican Lawmakers to Retreat Crashes Into Truck
Posted January 31, 2018 7:43 p.m. EST
Updated January 31, 2018 7:46 p.m. EST
WASHINGTON — An Amtrak train carrying Republican lawmakers to their annual policy retreat crashed into a large truck in rural Virginia on Wednesday, killing one of the truck’s passengers.
Two other passengers from the truck were injured — one seriously — and taken to a hospital. Two members of the train’s crew and three passengers, including Rep. Jason Lewis, R-Minn., were also taken to a hospital with minor injuries.
The crash occurred around 11:20 a.m. about 10 miles northwest of Charlottesville. By early afternoon, the train was on its way back to Charlottesville, where buses were waiting to finish the trip. The National Transportation Safety Board was investigating.
Republicans had chartered the train to carry them from Washington to the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, where the party is holding its annual policy retreat through Friday. Several lawmakers who were aboard the train estimated that more than half of the Republican members of the House and Senate, including Speaker Paul Ryan, were on board, many with spouses.
Ryan spoke by phone with President Donald Trump to update him after the crash, White House officials said.
The crash was a jarring start to an annual tradition that is intended to let lawmakers escape the noise of the Capitol for a few days to socialize and set priorities for the coming year. This year’s retreat is scheduled to include remarks by Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and other members of the Cabinet.
Instead, lawmakers still tired from attending Tuesday night’s State of the Union address found themselves staring out the window at a violent crash scene, wondering if anyone had been hurt as what appeared to be a large, white garbage truck lay mangled on its side. The trailer of the truck was separated from its cab during the collision and garbage was strewn in all directions around the vehicle.
“It was a pretty shocking event,” said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who was seated in the last car of the train and had a clear view through the window. Cole was standing in the aisle at the time of impact and managed to stay on his feet, but others were knocked to the floor.
Sen. Bill Cassidy, a first-term Republican from Louisiana, said he was sleeping when a loud noise and jarring motion awoke him. He saw fellow lawmakers and staff members knocked over in the train’s center aisle.
“I’m a physician and when you are a physician you are aware that at any moment bad things can happen,” Cassidy said in an interview later.
A group including Cassidy, Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona and a handful of former doctors, including Reps. Brad Wenstrup of Ohio, Michael C. Burgess of Texas, Phil Roe of Tennessee, Larry Buschon of Indiana and Roger Marshall of Kansas all raced backward through the train to find an exit. Cassidy’s wife, a retired doctor, as well as a House doctor soon joined them. So did Buschon’s wife, Kathryn, an anesthesiologist; she tried unsuccessfully to intubate one of the victims.
Cole watched them stream through his car one by one and argue with Amtrak personnel to let them disembark.
“They were demanding, ‘Get me off this train,'” he said in an interview. “We weren’t going to stop them.”
“You think of them as members of Congress, but they’re trained physicians,” he added. “They really wanted off this train.”
At the crash site, Cassidy said, it was quickly clear that one of the three men who had been riding in the truck was already dead. From inside, Cole could see a tarp pulled over the man. Another was on his feet, hurt but not seriously.
Cassidy said he and the others focused on a third man in serious condition. They lifted his legs to try to get blood to his head and heart. Another performed CPR. Eventually paramedics arrived to take the man to the hospital.
“We worked on him for about 20 minutes, and then put him on a stretcher and carried him to the ambulance,” Flake said.
Authorities did not immediately identity the truck’s passengers. The mangled truck indicated that it belonged to Time Disposal, a waste and recycling collection service that operates in the area.
For lawmakers like Flake, the episode brought back memories of another still-fresh tragedy: when a lone gunman opened fire on members of the congressional baseball team last June, gravely wounding Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, members of the Capitol Police and a lobbyist.
“It was all too reminiscent of the baseball shooting,” Flake said. “Similar type of feeling.”
By the time the train was moving again, Cassidy said, the mood was somber.
“I don’t think anybody’s gathered their thoughts as to what to do next,” he said.
In a statement after the crash, the group putting on the conference said the retreat would proceed mostly as planned. The retreat would now include a moment of prayer for the victims, as well as a security briefing from the House sergeant-at-arms and the Capitol Police.