Train carrying GOP lawmakers to policy retreat hits truck
WASHINGTON — A train carrying dozens of Republican members of Congress to a policy retreat in the countryside slammed into a garbage truck in rural Virginia on Wednesday, killing one person in the truck and sending several lawmaker-doctors rushing to help the injured.
No serious injuries were reported among those on the train, an Amtrak charter that set out from the nation's capital with lawmakers and staff for the luxury Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
At least two people in the truck were reported seriously hurt. They were not immediately identified.
The collision took place around 11:20 a.m. in Crozet, about 125 miles southwest of Washington, tearing the truck in two, crumpling the nose of the locomotive and scattering trash alongside the tracks.
Rothfus on board
U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus of Sewickley was on the train.
Moments before the collision, Rothfus was chatting about President Trump's State of the Union speech with U.S. Rep. Scott Perry of York County and Perry's wife, Christy.
"Then there was a loud thud," Rothfus told the Tribune-Review by phone Wednesday afternoon from a bus en route to the retreat.
"It shook the train, and the train came to an abrupt halt," Rothfus continued. "I looked out the window and there was the truck that the train had hit and spun around, with obvious damage to the cab, and the load of garbage that was on the flatbed was knocked off and all spilled out."
Rothfus announced he was unharmed via Twitter soon after the incident. Later, he tweeted that first-responders at the scene were "working nonstop to care for those injured in this tragic incident."
Our train heading to GOP Retreat in West Virginia was involved in an accident. No speculation on details at this time. I am fine & safe but my prayers are with those who may be hurt.— Keith Rothfus (@KeithRothfus) January 31, 2018
I am grateful for the first responders who rushed to the scene and have been working non-stop to care for those injured in this tragic incident. pic.twitter.com/DTAGaN6i7Z— Keith Rothfus (@KeithRothfus) January 31, 2018
Florida Rep. Neal Dunn, a former Army surgeon, said he and other lawmakers who are doctors joined other passengers who are nurses or paramedics and jumped out with the basic medical gear they had.
They broke into three teams to help the injured people in the truck, he said.
"The first gentleman was somebody who had really, really, really devastating injuries. We did try to resuscitate, but ultimately you had to realize it wasn't possible," Dunn said.
He said another man in the truck was critically injured and a third was seriously hurt.
Other doctor-lawmakers who helped included: U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and U.S. Reps. Michael Burgess of Texas; Phil Roe of Tennessee, Larry Bucshon of Indiana; Roger Marshall of Kansas; and Brad Wenstrup of Ohio.
Wenstrup also treated some of the victims during last June's shooting of Republicans at a baseball practice in nearby Alexandria, Va.
There were 3 people in the truck that was straddling the track and which the train hit. One is dead. One I am told is being transported but has minor injuries. One has serious injuries—please pray. Laura & I & multiple other physicians tended to the patients until EMTs showed up. https://t.co/qAmoofxakV— Bill Cassidy (@BillCassidy) January 31, 2018
My wife Kathryn and I were traveling to the annual House Republican retreat when our train collided with a truck, we are ok. We went to the scene and did what we could to help the injured. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this tragic accident and their families.— Larry Bucshon, MD (@RepLarryBucshon) January 31, 2018
Clarinda and I were on the train that crashed today, but we are both doing OK. Please join us in praying for the injured.— Dr. Phil Roe (@DrPhilRoe) January 31, 2018
Officials gave varying figures on the number injured in Wednesday's accident. Amtrak said two crew members and three passengers were taken to a hospital with minor injuries.
"Most folks on the train were OK, though the mood was very somber and sad," Rothfus said. "There were a few folks taken off the train for minor injuries like whiplash."
Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., said about 100 Republican lawmakers were on the train when the crash occurred nearly two hours after the train had departed Washington. The jolt made him jump out of his seat.
"I looked out the side of the window and then I could see a truck, just in pieces out the side of the window," Comer said. "It was a garbage truck that was apparently, I would assume, trying to cross the tracks."
One lawmaker aboard the train, U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said the vehicle had been ripped in half and said he saw a person wrapped in tarp and said emergency workers appeared to be "putting a body away."
Authorities gave no details on the cause of the wreck, which took place at a crossing protected by gates, flashing lights, bells and warning signs. The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team to investigate.
U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster of Bedford County, whose district includes Fayette County and parts of Westmoreland, Washington and Greene counties, and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey of Lehigh County said on social media that they were not on the train.
A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly said the Butler Republican was not on the train because he planned to drive to the retreat.
Kelly told CNBC that he did not make the train because he had too much work to do before leaving the office for the weekend. But he was emphasized he was touched that so many people had reached out to him and his aides to see if he was hurt.
"My phone has been lighting up with friends from back home," Kelly said on CNBC's "Power Lunch." "When things like this happen, we really start to think of ourselves not as Republicans and Democrats and independents, but as Americans. And when something tragic happens, we're concerned for the American people."
Glad to be able to share my thoughts on the #TrainCrash in Virginia on @PowerLunch earlier this afternoon. My prayers are with everyone involved. (And for everyone who's called our office to check on me and our staff, Thank You.) pic.twitter.com/1fXymj2OeR— Rep. Mike Kelly (@MikeKellyPA) January 31, 2018
I'm no Republican, but I won't politicize this fatal event. GOPers were told to stay on the train. Several didn't. They tried to help those from the garbage truck and reportedly even performed CPR. They were humans helping humans, and that's great to know.— Mrs. McNaughton (@NopeN0) January 31, 2018
The policy retreat, an annual event, is scheduled to last three days and feature speeches from President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
Democrats will have a similar event next week, headlined by former Vice President Joe Biden .
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., was on the train and was unhurt, aides said.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump was briefed on the accident.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone that has been affected by this incident," Sanders said.
Today's incident was a terrible tragedy. We are grateful for the first responders who rushed to the scene and we pray for the victims and their families. May they all be in our thoughts right now.— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) January 31, 2018
The Associated Press contributed. Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NewsNatasha.