RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — An Amtrak train carrying dozens of Republican congressmen to a retreat crashes into a garbage truck in rural Virginia. Within minutes, social media lights up with conspiracy theories.
But the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the crash, said the crash appears to have been an accident. And residents near the crash site said that safety bars appeared to malfunction the day before Wednesday's crash.
"The NTSB does safety investigations, so the fact that we're here is a presumption that it was an accident," said NTSB member Earl Weener.
Two people who live near the crossing told The Associated Press that on Tuesday, the safety arms appeared to be malfunctioning, staying in the lowered position when trains were not approaching. A third person said the arms were known to malfunction frequently and sometimes stayed down for hours.
That did not stop conservative-leaning bloggers and others to speculate on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms that this was no accident, but instead an elaborate plan by Democrats to "derail" the Republican agenda and perhaps even hurt or kill GOP leaders. Some speculated that the trash truck was somehow planted on the train tracks by Democrats, while others wondered if Hillary Clinton was behind the crash.
Coming the day after Republican President Donald Trump's State of the Union address, the crash seemed particularly suspect, Alex Jones, a well-known conspiracy theorist, said on "Infowars" Wednesday.
"Did a Democrat dump truck just try to derail the Trump train? Oh, I don't know, the day after the State of the Union, when the train left this morning from D.C. going through Charlottesville — that's Democrat-run — and then, right there, this happens, a dump truck just happens to ram into the front of the train," Jones said.
One man who described himself as an aerospace engineer and rails against the "lying media" on his Twitter page posted a photo of a 2014 train collision with a garbage truck in Memphis, but implied it was a photo of Wednesday's crash of the train carrying Republican leaders.
"A Democrat just ran a dump truck into the train carrying GOP to their Greenbrier retreat. Damn, that SOTU (State of the Union address) by President Trump really got them off their rails," he tweeted.
A woman from Mississippi described herself on her Facebook page as "not much of a conspiracy theorist," then wrote that her initial thoughts were that the train crash was deliberate.
"The symbolism of Republican train crashing into a garbage truck is something like radical liberal Democrats would do," she wrote.
Weener, of the NTSB, said if investigators were to find any evidence that suggests the crash was not an accident, "we would immediately involve the proper authorities."
Weener said the NTSB will look into whether the operators had any condition that could have contributed to the crash, will review event recorders and will also have a signal expert who will look at the safety of the grade crossing.