10 dead when Texas prison bus skids off highway, hits train

AP News
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Posted: Jan 14, 2015 9:58 PM
10 dead when Texas prison bus skids off highway, hits train

ODESSA, Texas (AP) — A prison bus skidded off an icy Texas highway, slid down an embankment and collided with a passing freight train Wednesday, killing eight inmates and two corrections officers, including the bus driver, authorities said.

The overpass on Interstate 20 was slick with ice Wednesday morning when the Texas Department of Criminal Justice bus left the roadway in Penwell, just west of Odessa, according to Ector County Sheriff Mark Donaldson.

The prisoners, who did not have seat belts, were handcuffed together in pairs, officials said. Some of them were ejected from the bus after it struck the train, said Trooper Elizabeth Barney of the Texas Department of Public Safety.

An earlier accident on the I-20 overpass may have contributed to the prison bus losing control, Donaldson said.

"It's as bad as you can imagine," Odessa Fire and Rescue Battalion Chief Kavin Tinney told the Odessa American newspaper. "In 32 years it's as bad as anything I've seen."

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice confirmed the 10 deaths in a statement, adding that four prisoners and one corrections officer were also injured.

Jason Clark, a Department of Criminal Justice spokesman, said the bus was new and had been placed in service only this past summer. It was taking the inmates from the Middleton prison in Abilene to the Sanchez prison in El Paso, which is about 250 miles west of where the accident happened.

The prisoners did not have any leg restraints, said Jason Heaton, agency director for the region. Only the driver's seat had a seat belt, he said. Like many buses, the vehicle did not have seat belts on the bench-type seats where the prisoners were seated.

After the accident around 7:30 a.m., the white bus came to rest on its side, next to the railroad tracks, crumpled with heavy damage to its front and undercarriage. The top of the bus was caved inward.

The Union Pacific freight train with four locomotives and 58 cars came to a stop soon after. None of the cars derailed, but two containers at the rear of the train were damaged, said Mark Davis, a railroad spokesman.

The containers were carrying hundreds of parcels and packages, many of which were strewn along the tracks.

No Union Pacific employees were injured.

A prison system statement identified the dead as correctional officers Christopher Davis, 53, and Eligio Garcia, 45; and inmates Byron Wilson, 34; Tyler Townsend, 29; Jesus Reyna, 44; Kaleb Wise, 22; Adolfo Ruiz, 32; Michael Sewart, 25; Angel Vasquez, 31; and Jeremiah Rodriguez, 35.

The statement did not say which officer was driving the bus. Davis was had more than 17 years of service with the Department of Criminal Justice, and Garcia had nearly 23 years of service. The inmates were serving sentences that ranged from one year for labeling unauthorized recordings to 20 years for drug possession with intent to distribute, according to online prison records.

Correctional officer Jason Self, 38, and inmates Terry Johnson, 22, and Damien Rodriguez, 22, were hospitalized in critical condition, the prison system said. Inmates Remigio Pineda, 34, and Hector Rivera, 37, were in serious condition.

The train, which was traveling from the Los Angeles area to Marion, Arkansas, remained stopped at the accident site several hours after the accident, Davis said.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it was sending a team of inspectors to the scene.

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick issued a statement offering condolences to the families of those killed in the wreck.

"I also pray for a speedy recovery of a third correctional staff member and four offenders who were transported with injuries," he said.

In June, an inmate was killed and several other people were injured when a Department of Criminal Justice van collided with a car in Central Texas.

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Warren reported from Dallas. Associated Press writers Terry Wallace and Diana Heidgerd in Dallas also contributed to this report.