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Big-rig driver can’t explain how Amtrak crash happened

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012 9:30 a.m. CDT

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HANFORD, Calif. (MCT) — The driver who slammed his big rig into an Amtrak train Monday afternoon in central California wasn’t impaired at the time of the crash, but can’t explain how it happened, either.

Forty people were hurt in the high-speed collision south of Hanford including big rig driver Macario Medina, 32, of McFarland.

California Highway Patrol spokesman Jerry Pierce said Tuesday that Medina was driving about 55 mph — the speed limit on rural Kansas Avenue just west of 10th Avenue — when he crashed into the Amtrak train. Medina’s truck hit between the last of four passenger cars and the engine that was pushing the train at about 80 mph.

An Amtrak spokeswoman told The Associated Press Tuesday that the crossing gate was down, lights were flashing and bells were ringing when the collision occurred. There also are two warning signs with flashing lights on westbound Kansas Avenue, one just before the Avenue 10 intersection and the other just past that intersection, about 200 feet ahead of the tracks.

Investigators probing the cause of the crash plan to look at the condition of Medina. Court records do not reveal any other driving incidents involving him.

Pierce of the CHP said investigators determined that Medina was not impaired at the time of the crash. His truck overturned north of the intersection and Medina was pinned inside his shattered cab for about an hour, emergency officials said.

Pierce said Medina suffered moderate injuries; no other details about his condition were available.

And, Pierce said, Medina has been unable to explain to investigators why he drove through the crossing signal. But, “it’s not uncommon for us to never really find out what happened.”

The truck was carrying cotton trash — the stuff left over after the ginning process. The truck is owned by Whisler Ag Services Inc. of Bakersfield. Details about Medina’s workday Monday weren’t known.

Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham said 39 people on the train were injured in the crash, AP reported. Authorities have described the injuries as mostly bumps and bruises although Graham said at least one person suffered a broken leg.

The impact from the truck pushed two of the train’s four cars and its locomotive off the tracks.

The train was on its way from Oakland to Bakersfield. The cars that derailed came to rest next to an alfalfa field about a half mile south of the intersection.

The track reopened Tuesday morning after crews replaced hundreds of feet of damaged track and some signal equipment.

Kansas Avenue was closed most of Tuesday while investigators finished their work there. The crossing has been the scene of two other crashes in the last five years.

In May 2008, a truck hauling a load of lemons smacked into a northbound Amtrak train at the Kansas Avenue crossing. About 33 passengers on the train received minor injuries in that crash, which derailed one of the passenger cars and pushed the locomotive into some cars of a freight train that was waiting on an adjacent track.

And in August 2007, one person was airlifted to a hospital after a northbound Amtrak train hit a car that apparently stalled on the tracks at Kansas Avenue. The train was carrying 150 people. The train’s crew was warned that the car was on the tracks and began slowing but was not able to stop in time. No one aboard the train was hurt in that crash.

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