Mon, Jul 29, 2013 - Page 6 News List

Judge to question Spanish train driver

SUPPORT:A colleague described the driver of the train involved in a deadly derailment on Wednesday as an ‘excellent professional’ who had never had an accident before

AFP, SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain

Luggage belonging to passengers on the train that derailed on Wednesday, killing 78 people, is seen on Saturday at a sports center in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

Photo: AFP

The driver of a train that hurtled off the rails killing 78 people in Spain was to appear before a judge for questioning yesterday, facing possible charges of reckless homicide.

Francisco Jose Garzon Amo, 52, refused to answer police questions on Friday from his hospital bed, and the case was passed to the courts.

He was taken to a police station on Saturday after being discharged from hospital and was due to appear yesterday before a judge who was to decide whether to press formal charges.

Under Spanish law, a suspect can be detained for a maximum of 72 hours before being heard by a judge.

Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz told reporters on Saturday that Garzon Amo faced possible charges of reckless homicide. He was speaking during a visit to the city of Santiago de Compostela where the crash happened.

The train was said to have been travelling at more than twice the speed limit on a curve when it was flung off the rails on Wednesday and slammed into a wall, with one carriage leaping up onto a siding.

Regional authorities now say that 78 passengers died and 178 were injured in the accident.

Regional health officials said 71 people were still in hospital, including 28 adults and three children in a critical condition.

Eight foreigners were among the dead — a US citizen, an Algerian, a Mexican, a Brazilian, a Venezuelan, an Italian, a national of the Dominican Republic and a Frenchman.

Spanish media published photographs of the man they identified as Garzon Amo after the crash, with blood covering the right side of his face.

The driver should have started slowing the train before reaching a bend that train drivers had been told to respect, the president of Spanish rail network administrator Adif said on Saturday.

“Four kilometers before the accident happened he already had warnings that he had to begin slowing his speed,” Gonzalo Ferre told Spanish public television TVE.

Newspaper El Mundo, citing sources close to the investigation, reported on Saturday that the driver was speaking on his mobile telephone at the time of the accident.

El Pais, citing unidentified sources, reported that the driver, while still trapped in his cab, told railway officials by radio that the train had taken the curve at 190kph, more than double the 80kph speed limit for that section of track.

State railway company Renfe said Garzon Amo had been with the firm for 30 years, including 13 years as a driver.

He had driven trains past the spot of the accident 60 times during his time with Renfe, company president Julio Gomez-Pomar told private television Antena 3.

Some media reports described Garzon Amo as a speed freak who once posted a picture on his Facebook page of a train speedometer at 200kph.

A caption read: “I am on the edge, I can’t go faster or else I will be fined.”

The page has since been taken down.

However, Garzon Amo also has his defenders.

“He is an excellent professional,” said Antonio Rodriguez, who joined Renfe alongside Garzon in 1982. “It is the first accident he has ever had.”

Renfe said the train had no technical problems and had just passed an inspection on the morning of the accident, but experts have raised questions about the track’s speed signalling system.

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