MIDLAND (November 16, 2012)--Officials Friday identified the four veterans who died after a train slammed into a parade float that was stuck on a railroad crossing in Midland.
Sgt. Maj. Gary Stouffer, 37, and Sgt. Maj. Lawrence Boivin, 47, were pronounced dead at the scene of the accident Thursday afternoon, Midland city spokesman Ryan Stout said.
Army Sgt. Joshua Michael, 34, and Army Sgt. Maj. William Lubbers, 43, were pronounced dead later at Midland Memorial Hospital, he said.
Sixteen others were hurt in the crash.
Four were in stable condition Friday and one was in critical condition.
Ten others were treated and released from the hospital.
Midland Mayor Wes Perry said the accident “may be one of the most tragic events we’ve had in our town.”
“These guys are true American heroes,” he said.
The victims were riding on a trailer, described as a parade float, en route to a banquet honoring wounded veterans during Midland’s annual “Show of Support/Hunt for Heroes” event.
Union Pacific spokesman Tom Lange said the crew was sounding the horn before the eastbound train hit the float at around 4:30 p.m. Thursday.
He said the crossing gate and lights were working at the time, but said he didn’t know if the train crew saw the float approaching.
A man who was volunteering at the parade said it was "a scene of total chaos" after the train hit the parade float.
The volunteer, who had served as a front-line physician in Iraq, says the aftermath of the collision reminded him of the war.
He said veterans immediately started treating the wounded with limited medical supplies.
A woman who was on a float ahead of the one that was hit said her float had just crossed the tracks, and was moving slowly.
Pam Shoemaker said she and her husband, a special ops veteran, heard the train coming, and started to jump off their trailer.
"We saw people jumping from the other trailer, and then there was the impact,” she said.
She said the other veterans rushed to help the injured, and that her husband was able to resuscitate one person.
The head of the National Transportation Safety Board told NBC the train was equipped with a forward-facing camera, and that the video could help in the investigation of the crash.
Federal records show there were 10 previous collisions at the same crossing where the train slammed into the float.
Records reviewed by The Associated Press from the Federal Railroad Administration show that five cars and trains or rail equipment have struck five trucks at the Garfield railroad crossing in Midland since 1979.
Six drivers were injured in the accidents but there were no fatalities.
The trains involved in the previous collisions were moving slowly at the time of the accidents, between 15 miles per hour and 25 miles per hour.
The parade was part of the city’s ninth annual Show of Support/Hunt For Heroes event, the remainder of which was canceled, a Midland newspaper reported.
The event was to have culminated with a banquet and a whitetail deer hunt for wounded veterans this weekend.