West Dunellen, NJ Train Wreck, Jan 1899
WRECK VICTIMS SEVENTEEN
Two More of Lehigh Valley Passengers Die at Plainfield.
THE RAILROAD RESPONSIBLE
Supt. Sprigg, However, Cannot Say Who Was Directly to Blame---An Inquest May Not Be Held.
The list of deaths resulting from the head-on collision of two passenger trains on the Lehigh Valley Railroad, near West Dunellen, Monday afternoon, was increased by two yesterday. J. Josephs and A. Aligier, a tailor, both of Mount Carmel, Penn., died at the Muhlenberg Hospital, at Plainfield, N. J. It was given as the opinion of the physicians at the hospital where the more seriously injured were taken that the list is likely to grow. Of the seventeen dead only two remain wholly unidentified, a man and a woman, lying at an undertaking establishment at Bound Brook.
Who was to blame for the accident has not yet been settled, or if it is known to the railroad officials it has not been made public. All that is acknowledged by officials of the road is that somebody blundered in allowing two trains to get on the single track going in opposite directions at practically the same moment. No investigation is being made, they say, and none will be made until the dead and wounded are cared for. The lips of the engineers of the wrecked trains, the telegraph operators, and switchmen who might be expected to explain the cause of the catastrophe were practically sealed yesterday. The information they gave out amounted to nothing, and they directed their questioners to officials of the company higher in authority.
The Lehigh Valley Railroad was represented by W. O. Sprigg, Superintendent of the Eason Division, which extends from Easton, Penn., to Jersey City. He has been near the scene of the accident since it occurred, engaged in looking after the multitude of details that his position calls for. His private car was side-tracked at Bound Brook all day, where he has temporary headquarters, with a special telegraph wire running to the car. He had little to say concerning the accident that has not already been said.
"My first duty," he said, "is to look after the dead and wounded. I have given all my time thus far to that work. After it is attended to, we will make an investigation looking toward fixing the responsibility for the accident. Thus far no employe[sic] of the road had been discharged, or even suspended, as a result of the collision. At the present time the responsibility all rests with me."
When it was suggested that the block system of signaling, by which an engineer could tell at various points along the track whether or not the way was clear, and which was ostensibly in use on the Lehigh Valley Road, was in reality but a make-shift and might have been negatively the cause of the collision. Mr. Sprigg grew angry. He admitted, however, that only about thirty miles of block signals were in use throughout the distance between Jersey City and Easton, Penn. "If there had been a block system every four feet," he added, "the fact would not have been prevented the accident. The responsibility for the accident, however, rests with this company. Orders had been sent to South Plainfield to allow no trains to move westward until further orders."
MAY HOLD NO INQUEST.
Superintendent Sprigg refused to state what would be the method of procedure on the part of the railroad officials to fix the blame on employe[sic] or employes[sic] of the company, and refused to discuss the subject further. He held a consultation during the day with County Physician Samuel Long of Middlesex County, who really takes precedence over Coroner Charles Moke on occasions of this kind. Dr. Long stated later that it was doubtful if any inquest would be held into the killing of the seventeen persons in the wreck.
"The railroad officials, I believe, will assume the responsibility for the accident," he said. "The law directs the holding of an inquest only when the cause of death in this case. I will meet the officials of the road to-morrow at some point not yet agreed upon, and if the road will assume the responsibility for the deaths there will be no inquest. If there is a Coroner's investigation it will be held in New Brunswick. Whether or not there is an inquest, however, I will lay the result of my investigations before the county prosecuting attorney and the matter will be laid before the Grand Jury. If it is found that the accident was due to criminal negligence on the part of any person or persons an indictment will follow." Coroner Moke concurred in Dr. Long's opinion of the case.
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