At least four people have died and 35 have been hospitalized following a Biloxi bus crash that saw a train collide with a bus. Several people were airlifted from the scene of the tragedy, which happened when a bus was broadsided by an eastbound train.
More Fatalities Expected in Biloxi Bus Crash
The Biloxi bus crash occurred around 2:15 p.m. local time on March 7 at the Main Street crossing in Biloxi, which is equipped with flashing lights and crossing gates. The charter bus involved in the crash reportedly stopped on the tracks for unknown reasons and was hit by the eastbound CSX freight train. The train then pushed the charter bus 200 feet down the tracks.
According to local police, most or all of the passengers on the bus suffered some sort of injury. Some of the 35 who were taken to hospitals are not expected to survive their injuries. Three of the bus passengers died during the accident, while a fourth died later in the hospital. The Jaws of Life was brought in to extract two bus passengers. No one on the train crew was hurt in the collision with the train.
“I just want everyone to know that we’re doing everything we can do to help everyone on that bus,” said Biloxi Police Chief John Miller.
Passengers on the bus were senior citizens traveling from Austin to Biloxi to visit the Biloxi casino as part of a seven-day trip. Some passengers on board the bus were released at the scene with minor injuries, although 15 passengers were said to be “walking wounded” and another 20 passengers suffered serious or critical injuries.
The train was a mixed-freight train on the route from New Orleans to Alabama, with three locomotives, 27 loaded cars, and 25 empty cars. The National Transportation Safety Board is also monitoring the tragedy while investigators for the Federal Railroad Administration were headed to the scene. Police are interviewing both the bus driver and the train operator.
Witnesses Describe Chaotic Mississippi Train Crash Scene
Witnesses of the Biloxi bus crash described the scene as “chaotic,” noting that the bus had been stuck on the tracks for five minutes before the crash and some people attempted to get off the bus while the driver tried to get it started. Following the crash, a triage area was set up near the crash site to assist victims.
“We were trying to get off [the train] ourselves,” said Jim DeLaCruz, who was on the bus with his wife. “The bus tried to clear the tracks and got stuck right in the middle and it couldn’t budge, and the train just kept coming and kept coming.”
“This is a tragic event for our city,” Biloxi Mayor Andrew Gilich said.
“It’s a terrible tragedy,” said Miller at a news conference shortly after the accident. “It is a terrible, chaotic scene right now, but we have it under control.”
Although investigators do not know what caused the crash, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board said the crossing where the accident occurred has a hump that can cause large vehicles to bottom out. Robert Sumwalt reportedly said the agency would look into whether that hump was a factor in the crash, but news reports indicate that particular crossing has been the site of 17 accidents involving vehicles and trains. The city and the railroad company are reportedly responsible for the maintenance of crossings.
The agency is also looking into the history of the charter bus company, the driver’s history, and whether the crew on the train could have done anything to prevent the crash. Initial information indicates the train was moving at 26 miles per hour when it was put into an emergency stop 510 feet away from the bus. By the time the train crashed into the bus, it was moving 19 miles per hour.
Mark Robinson, a witness to the crash, told reporters that tourists were getting off the bus just prior to the accident, and one person was pushed under the bus in a collision. He further noted that the crossing had been a problem for a long time, and should either be closed or fixed.
Biloxi Bus Crash Victims
Although officials are not yet releasing the names of the people who died or were injured in the Biloxi bus crash, people who knew the victims have confirmed some identities. Among the people who died in the bus crash were Peggy and Ken Hoffman, both of whom worked in the Lockhart school district.
“We feel their loss deeply across the district, remembering the mark that they made upon us and upon a generation of children in our community,” a statement by the Lockhart school district reads.
Bus Owned by Echo Transportation
The bus involved in the Biloxi train crash is owned by Echo Transportation, which is operated by TBL Group. Echo has 113 vehicles, including buses and vans, and provides transportation for group events including tours. In the past two years, Echo vehicles have been involved in six crashes, but injuries only occurred in one crash prior to the Biloxi bus crash.
Mississippi Crossing the Site of Other Train Crashes
The Biloxi Main Street crossing has been the site of other crashes, including one only two months ago. In that crash, a Pepsi delivery truck became stuck on the tracks and was hit by a CSX train. Luckily, the driver managed to get out of his vehicle and no injuries were reported.
Tour bus safety has been in the news over the past year, following a tour bus crash in California in 2016 that killed four people and injured at least 16 more.