French death toll rises to 5 children in train-bus crash

AP News
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Posted: Dec 15, 2017 1:10 PM
French death toll rises to 5 children in train-bus crash

PARIS (AP) — French authorities said one more student died Friday after a regional train sliced open a school bus in southern France, raising the overall death toll to five children.

Marseille prosecutor Xavier Tarabeux, who is coordinating the investigation with local authorities in the Pyrenees-Orientales region, told a press conference that an 11-year-old child died on Friday afternoon. Four children aged 12 or 13 died Thursday after the accident.

Tarabeux added that three children were released from hospital, but that six others remained hospitalized with injuries that are still life-threatening.

The bus driver, a 46-year-old woman, was also injured in the accident at a crossing close to the Spanish border and has yet to be questioned by investigators.

The bus was carrying 23 students aged 11 to 15 from the Christian Bourquin school in the village of Millas, near Perpignan in southern France. The school opened its doors Friday to offer counseling for grieving students and families.

Investigators were still working to determine the cause of the crash.

Philippe Vignes, the Pyrenees-Orientales chief, said he could not say whether the railway barriers meant to stop vehicles from driving onto the tracks when a train is coming were open or closed.

"There are contradictory rumors," he said. "We need to be very careful."

Tarabeux said "the testimonies on the functioning of the barriers are not consistent, but in favor of closed barriers."

Christian Faur, the head of the bus company, earlier told French media that he spoke with the bus driver at the hospital and that she was adamant the barriers were opened.

National railway company SNCF said in a statement it was "shocked" by Faur's allegations.

According to Tarabeux, alcohol and drugs tests performed on the two conductors who were in the locomotive were negative. The bus driver was tested for alcohol and returned a negative result too.

SNCF said the train was carrying 25 people, including passengers and crew, and all were accounted for and being offered counseling. She said the train normally travels at 80 kph (50 mph) at that location.

Tarabeux said it was traveling at 75 kph, under the authorized limit of 100 kph.

French President Emmanuel Macron evoked the nation's "sadness" and "solidarity" toward the victims' families at a news conference Friday at a European Union summit in Brussels.

Vignes added that investigators would also look into reports that the batteries in the automatic train gate system had been stolen.