Veterans parade in deadly crash used route for 3 years

Midland police, fire and sheriffs respond to an accident where a trailer carrying wounded veterans in a parade was struck by a train in Midland, Texas, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012. AP Photo/Reporter-Telegram, James Durbin

MIDLAND, Texas Organizers of a parade in West Texas in which four U.S. military veterans were killed when a train plowed into a truck had been using the same route for three years, investigators said Sunday.

National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Mark Rosekind also announced that oilfield services company Smith Industries was the owner of the truck that served as a float during Thursday's parade in Midland.

Rosekind said the company was cooperating with investigators, who expect to interview the driver on Monday. The NTSB declined to release the driver's name.

According to its website, Midland-based Smith Industries sells and manufactures oilfield service equipment. The website says the company provides steel and fiberglass tanks, separators, ladders, walkways and other equipment. The company has been in operation since 2000.

Rick B. Smith, Smith Industries' CEO and president, did not immediately respond to phone calls or emails seeking comment Sunday.

Midland is in Texas' oil-rich Permian basin, a region that has experienced a significant oil boom in recent years.

Investigators say the truck began crossing the train tracks even though warning bells were sounding and lights were flashing. It was the second of two parade floats filled with wounded war veterans. The first float had already cleared the tracks when the accident happened.

The NTSB released that timeline Saturday, based on information from cameras and data recorders.

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. The parade was supposed to be the start of a three-day weekend of banquets, deer hunting and shopping in appreciation of the veterans' service.

According to the NTSB, the train sounded its horn nine seconds before the crash. The guardrail hit the truck, and then the engineer pulled the emergency brake, trying to bring the train that was traveling at 62 mph to a screeching halt.

Some people tried to jump off the float, witnesses said. Four veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan were killed and 16 more people were injured.

The NTSB said no mechanical problems were found with the cars or the tracks, and the train's maintenance history was clean. Investigators will try to establish on Monday what the engine could have seen as it approached the truck.

Railroads are a vital part of Midland. Three or four railroad tracks lie within city limits. The city is listed as having nearly 114,000 residents, but residents and officials believe the population has risen significantly with the growth of the oil industry.

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.

Two of the injured were still at a Midland hospital Sunday afternoon, one in critical condition and another in stable condition.

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