MIDLAND (CBS 11 I-TEAM) - Lights and a thundering roar came out of nowhere.
"I saw the train coming at us and I started screaming, 'Train!'"
Crossing arms bounced onto their laps.
"It came down right in front of us and then it went back up."
Heather Sanchez says her husband, Richard, threw her off the flatbed truck they were on, as they traveled slowly through town.
"From what I remember, it's all really vivid in my mind. It happened really quickly… pushing Heather was a reaction thing, "Richard told the CBS 11 I-Team.
Richard was still on the flatbed truck that was carrying 12 veterans and their wives when a Union Pacific freight train slammed into the side of it.
After the collision, Heather searched frantically for her husband, wading through debris as other victims cried in anguish for help.
"He was curled up in the fetal position, and he wasn't moving. There was some blood on him... I was afraid he was dead, she said in an emotional interview at their home in Colorado, hundreds of miles from Midland, the West Texas town where the accident occurred on Nov. 15, 2012.
Heather said soldiers nearby, who were honoring the veterans in a parade, rushed to care for the injured. But Richard, like a soldier on a battlefield, refused help. Instead, he triaged himself, telling his wife he was "only paralyzed" and others needed more help.
"She rolled me onto my back from that fetal position, and I could talk to her. So I knew my airway was clear," Richard recalled.
More than a year later, the Sanchezes are struggling to move on. But they are recovering.
Richard is driving a truck that is designed to help him use his hands to control the vehicle.
He is out of a wheelchair and learning to walk again. "I could never give in. I can't give up. I am not wired that way," Richard told the I-Team's Ginger Allen.
Heather's battle is different.
"The mental side has been hard for me. It's frustrating, we want answers. Hopefully, we'll get to the bottom of it and find out what went wrong," she said.
The I-team has spent months investigating possible safety concerns in the crash. The accident has triggered multiple civil lawsuits. However, there will be no definitive answers, until the cases are decided in court, which will likely occur either in Midland.
Richard said he is reserving judgment until then. "Until we get the whole story, we're just kinda waiting, he said."
But he added: "I believe something could be learned from this. Something needs to change. A slap on the risks isn't going to be satisfactory."
Richard wants more oversight to make sure safety devices, such as warning lights and crossing arms, are working properly. "That sort of stuff needs to be changed," he said.
The Sanchezes, who are suing Union Pacific, say they'll return to Texas for the civil trial.
"We're going to go back and find out exactly what happened. We just don't' want it to happen to anybody else," says Richard.
Heather fights tears back as she added, "All these men went to war and they made it back alive. This could have been avoided. There should be no reason, excuse for the loss of life and the pain it's caused the families."
A spokesperson for Union Pacific Railroad company provided us the following statement:
"Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the families who were affected by the tragic accident in Midland.
The National Transportation Safety Board considered the specific issues related to this accident and concluded that Union Pacific train operations and signal infrastructure were not responsible for this tragedy. The crossing warning system exceeded the state and federal warning requirement of 20 seconds. There is no credible evidence that a longer warning time would have prevented this accident. Click here to read the NTSB's comprehensive, independent final report posted online.
Regarding the trial venue, we are pleased with the Texas Supreme Court's decision to uphold the Court of Appeals' mandate to transfer the case to Midland, while we await its final decision on the trial's location. We believe Midland is the proper venue for this case. It is where the accident occurred and the majority of the witnesses reside."
(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)
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