DALLAS (AP) — A freight train slammed into a parade float carrying wounded veterans on Thursday, killing four people and injuring 17 others as the float drove through a West Texas railroad crossing on its way to an honorary banquet, authorities said.
The eastbound train was sounding its horn before it hit the float around 4:40 p.m. in Midland, Union Pacific spokesman Tom Lange said. A preliminary investigation indicates the crossing gate and lights were working at the time, Lange said, though he didn't know if the train crew saw the float approaching.
Midland city spokesman Ryan Stout says 37-year-old Sgt. Maj. Gary Stouffer and 47-year-old Sgt. Maj. Lawrence Boivin were pronounced dead at the scene of the accident Thursday afternoon.
Stout says 34-year-old Army Sgt. Joshua Michael and 43- year-old Army Sgt. Maj. William Lubbers were pronounced dead later at Midland Memorial Hospital.
Seven of those injured are in critical condition, while the 10 others are in stable condition, he said.
"There is going to be a very thorough investigation," Lange said. "It's obviously a very tragic incident."
Photos of the float taken during the parade show about two dozen people seated in chairs set up on the back of a flatbed tractor-trailer decorated with American flags and signs identifying each veteran. A banner across the truck's front bumper reads, "Heroes on Board."
The float was among two flat-bed trucks carrying veterans and their spouses, police said. The first truck safely crossed the railroad tracks, but the second truck's trailer was hit by the train. Police said some of the people on the second trailer were able to evacuate before the crash.
The parade was to end at a "Hunt for Heroes" banquet honoring the veterans. The wounded service members were then going to be treated to a deer-hunting trip this weekend. The events have been canceled.
Patricia Howle, a witness to the accident, said, "My daughter said, 'Momma, the train is coming!' and she was looking for it as I saw the trailer begin to cross the railroad tracks," CBS affiliate KOSA Odessa reported.
Howle added: "People were jumping off, trying to get off that trailer and the truck was still rolling. People on the trailer saw the train coming and they were flying in every direction."
Lange said Union Pacific is offering help to the community and victims' families, as well as peer-to-peer counseling for the train crew, who did not sustain any injuries.
"It's pretty traumatic for them," he said.
The National Transportation Safety Board also is investigating, NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said.
Midland is about 320 miles west of Dallas.
(©2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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