Tue, Jul 30, 2013 - Page 7 News List

Spanish to commemorate crash victims

Reuters, SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain

Spain was to hold a memorial service last night for the 79 people who died in the country’s worst rail disaster in decades, a day after the driver of the train was freed pending trial on charges of reckless homicide.

The ceremony was scheduled to take place at 7pm in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where the high-speed train derailed. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, several ministers and two of King Juan Carlos’ children, Prince Felipe and Infanta Elena, were to attend.

The eight-carriage, high-speed train crumpled and caught fire on Wednesday last week after slamming into a concrete wall. The impact was so strong that one of the carriages was thrown several meters over an embankment.

The death toll rose on Sunday to 79 after one injured person, an American woman, died.

Seventy people remain in hospital, 22 in critical condition.

The train driver, Francisco Garzon, 52, appeared to take the train too fast through a tight curve. He had been under arrest since Thursday last week.

Examining Magistrate Luis Alaez formally charged Garzon with “79 counts of homicide and numerous offences of bodily harm, all of them committed through professional recklessness,” the court said in a statement on Sunday night.

In a closed-door hearing, Garzon admitted taking the curve too fast, blaming it on a momentary lapse, according to media reports.

Among conditions of his release, Garzon was ordered to surrender his passport and check in regularly with the court.

None of the parties in the case, which include state train operator Renfe, state railway firm Adif and two insurance companies, had asked for Garzon to be jailed pending trial, and he was not seen as a flight risk, the court statement said.

Garzon has worked for Renfe for 30 years, 10 as a driver. His father also worked for the service and he grew up in Renfe-owned housing in northwestern Spain.

Neither lawyers nor members of Garzon’s family could be reached for comment.

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