San Bernardino, CA Train Derailment Kills Several, May 1989

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RUNAWAY TRAIN DERAILS; THREE KNOWN DEAD.

San Bernardino, Calif. (AP) -- Authorities searching through tons of debris found a 24-year-old man alive more than 14 hours after a runaway freight train jumped its tracks at 90 mph and slammed into a row of houses, killing three.
Chris Shaw was half asleep in his home Friday when the out-of-control train catapulted off a curve. Locomotives and freight cars loaded with unprocessed potash were sent crashing into 11 houses, including his.
He was found shortly before 9 p.m. and spoke to rescuers who fed him oxygen through a tube and encouraged him throughout the 1 1/2-hour rescue operation.
"I would never have believed that this individual could have survived where he was," said a rescue coordinator, whose name was not immediately available. "He had major train parts against his body."
Shaw apparently was able to survive after metal debris formed a cave, creating an air pocket with enough oxygen to sustain him, said Gene Brooks, a rescue supervisor.
"I'm glad my son is out of the house," said his mother, Maryann Shaw. "I was so confused. I told him that his mama was outside and I was out here for him."
He suffered a broken right leg, said Joy Flint, a nursing supervisor at San Bernardino County Hospital. Shaw was in serious condition early today.
"Christopher is awake and alert and in good spirits," Mrs. Flint added.
The Southern Pacific freight apparently lost its brakes near the top of the 4,190-foot Cajon Pass and careened down the flank of the San Bernardino Mountains, said Southern Pacific spokesman Jim Loveland.
During their desperate plunge, the five-man crew radioed that they were out of control. Then the train, two-thirds of a mile long, plowed into a modest neighborhood of single-story homes about 7:40 a.m. in San Bernardino, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles.
Killed were:
Conductor EVERETT S. CROWN, aged 36.
Brakeman on 3rd locomotive ALLAN RIESS, aged 43.
JASON THOMPSON, aged 7 and,
TYSON WHITE, aged 9, who were step-brothers whose home was flattened by cars of the 3,470-foot-long train.
Nancy Fricks said her grandson, Daniel Sweeney, 9, who lives with her, watched as the body of a little boy, a school chum of Daniel's, was carried away. "He saw them taking the body out under a blanket and he started crying," Ms. Fricks said.
Dogs used to search for victims of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake were flown in from northern California to search for brakeman ALLAN R. REISS, 43. Mobile spotlights were set up as the search continued through the night.
Scores of rescuers worked to free Shaw. His house was shattered and he was buried under debris and tons of the sandlike potash.
Ms. Shaw said her son had been drowsy and was lying in bed in a front bedroom. "I knocked on the door and told him to remember to shut everything off because he has a habit of leaving the iron on," she said.
After the crash, she stared at a 25-foot tower of wreckage covering the home. Only the mailbox was still standing.
Hospitals in the area reported treating at least eight people for varying injuries, including engineer FRANK W. HOLLAND, 34, who was in serious but stable condition late Friday suffering from fractured ribs, bruises and cuts, said Jo Coffey, a nursing supervisor at St. Bernardine's Hospital.
The other crew members who suffered minor injuries were engineer LARRY HILL, 42, and brakeman ROBERT WATERBURY, 57.
One of the train's five crew members radioed to a dispatcher in Los Angeles that the train was out of control, Loveland said. The Mayday call was received by the dispatcher shortly before 7:30 a.m.
The 69-car freight had four engines in front and two "helper engines" in back. The rear engines had applied full brakes.
The National Transportation Safety Board will coordinate investigation of the crash.
Police Sgt. Dan Hernandez said six houses were destroyed, one had major damage and four had minor damage. Property damage was estimated at $600,000.
Red Cross spokeswoman Kim Schwartz said a shelter had been set up at the Inland Job Corps Center and 237 people had been fed and housed at area hotels Friday night.
"The train was all over the place. It looked like a toy in a sandbox," said eyewitness Al Dorame. "It was just everywhere, in people's yards. Pieces of the axles were in people's yards. Sand covered a whole house. Some of the people thought it was an earthquake."
Crews pumped 11,000 gallons of diesel fuel from overturned engines to prevent an explosion.

Indiana Gazette Pennsylvania 1989-05-13