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Amtrak Train Strikes Log Truck

Fourteen people were injured when an Amtrak train struck a log truck at a crossing Tuesday morning, derailing all 10 cars and the engine, emergency officials said.

Nine of those hurt were treated for minor injuries and released from Beaufort Memorial Hospital, spokeswoman Nora Kresch said. Another five were treated for minor injuries at Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah, Ga., hospital spokesman Dale Hooks said.

The train was traveling from New York to Miami when it derailed at 9:07 a.m. about 35 miles north of Savannah, Ga., said Amtrak spokesman Bill Schulz. There were 103 passengers and 13 crew members on board, according to Amtrak.

The train was going 79 mph when it hit the rear quarter of the truck, separating the bed from the cab, said Cpl. Chuck Wise of the South Carolina Highway Patrol.

Marion Blakey, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said NTSB would send staff members to investigate the accident.

The driver, who told police he did not see the train, was not injured though he was still in the cab when the train hit.

Eric J. McKinney of Pembroke, Ga., was charged with failure to yield the right of way. He is the owner of the truck and was working for Gator Logging Co. of Pembroke, authorities said.

"I didn't see anything until it was too late," McKinney said. "He blowed the horn one time and that was right yonder about 300 feet" from the crossing.

"I was on top of the railroad tracks," he said. "I speeded the truck up and tried to get across the tracks.

"It knocked the breath out of me."

McKinney said his first thought was "wondering how many people I done killed."

Most of the injuries to passengers and crew were neck and back, with some people complaining of stomach injuries from when the engineer attempted to stop, said Mike Hodges, emergency management director for Jasper County.

Uninjured passengers were taken by bus to the National Guard Armory in Ridgeland, where they were fed sandwiches and fried chicken by the American Red Cross. The passengers were then going by bus to Jacksonville, Fla., and Amtrak said it would provide transportation to get everyone to their destinations.

"I just finished a cup of coffee. I took my last sip, and then we heard 'Boom,"' said Jerry Gagliardo of Hastings, Fla. He was returning from taking his wife to visit some friends in Lancaster, Pa. "The guy sitting next to me said, 'Jerry, we just hit something. Hold on.' We were holding on for dear life.

"It looked like we were tipping over. The gravel was flying, and it was swaying side to side."

Lamar and Maureen Grow of Shamokin, Penn., caught the train in Philadelphia and were heading to Jacksonville. They were in their own compartment near the front of the train.

"I was lying down, and I just sat up, and when I did, I flew off the seat," Maureen Grow said. "I put my hand out to stop myself and hurt my shoulder."

Both said they didn't hear the train's horn.

"I heard a big bang. I knew we struck something," Lamar Grow said. "I expected the cars to fishtail all over. But it didn't, they stayed straight."

The accident left logs scattered around the crossing and about a quarter-mile down the tracks where the engine stopped. The cars remained upright, just slightly askew from the tracks.

Tuesday's derailment was the second serious accident involving Amtrak in as many months. Four passengers died and more than 150 people were injured when an Amtrak Auto Train derailed on April 18 in Crescent City, Fla. That accident's cause remains under investigation by the NTSB.

Although no accidents have been blamed on safety deficiencies at Amtrak, U.S. regulators have stepped up safety oversight of the nation's only city-to-city passenger rail service because of its deteriorating financial condition.

The Federal Railroad Administration said it began watching Amtrak more closely in February after the railroad announced a $285 million austerity plan to stem red ink and cut 1,000 jobs. Amtrak lost $1.1 billion last year and Congress is debating whether to restructure the rail service or give it more operating subsidies.

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