Survivor: Driver urged all to get off bus before train hit

Responders works the scene where a train hit a bus in Biloxi, Miss., Tuesday, March 7, 2017. A freight train smashed into a charter bus in Biloxi, Mississippi, on Tuesday, pushing the bus 300 feet down the tracks authorities said. Authorities worked for more than an hour to remove passengers, Biloxi Fire Chief Joe Boney said, taking the injured people to area hospitals and cutting through the bus’s mangled body to extract the final two people. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A survivor of a deadly bus and train wreck in Mississippi said Thursday the bus became lodged on a railroad crossing and that the driver yelled for all the passengers to get off, shortly before the train hit.

Four Texas tourists on the bus outing to southern Mississippi’s casinos were killed Tuesday and dozens injured.

Passenger Justine Nygren of Austin, Texas, said the tour bus driver had stayed aboard the vehicle the entire time, trying to ensure people got out in the moments before a CSX freight train slammed into the bus.

“He told us to get off, and he was trying to see that everybody got off,” said Nygren, speaking by phone with The Associated Press after returning to her Texas home. “He stuck with the bus, I know that. He didn’t get off when we did.”

She said she was seated right behind the driver when the bus became stuck on the humped crossing in Biloxi. Nygren left through the front door and walked a short distance alongside the tracks, not looking back. As she did, the train hit the bus and pushed it past her, she said.

Another bus returned her and seven other uninjured survivors Wednesday night to Bastrop, Texas, the Austin American-Statesman reported (http://atxne.ws/2m4c3Lz). The weeklong trip was organized by a senior citizens’ center in Bastrop, about 30 miles east of Austin.

The survivor’s account emerged as lawyers announced they were headed to court for the heirs of one Texas couple killed in Tuesday’s wreck.

Attorney Mikal Watts said he filed suit Wednesday against the railroad, the bus company and its unidentified driver in state court in Dallas for Peggy Hoffman’s son. Attorney Broadus Spivey is suing separately for heirs of Hoffman’s husband Ken, Watts said Thursday. He added the two lawyers are working together.

Spivey said he hasn’t yet filed a lawsuit and won’t comment until he does.

National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt said Wednesday that the crossing on Biloxi’s Main Street has a hump that has caused tractor-trailers to bottom out, and the federal agency is looking into whether the steep grade played a role in Tuesday’s crash.

A soft drink delivery truck and a tractor-trailer also were hit by trains after getting lodged at the same crossing in January of this year and August 2014, respectively. Nobody was hurt in the January accident; a rail worker was injured in 2014.

Watts’ lawsuit said CSX Transportation allowed “ultra hazardous” conditions at the crossing, and that the Echo Transportation driver failed to follow traffic signs.

The crossing has a warning sign about low clearance, topped by a picture of a tractor-trailer stuck on a railroad track.

“CSX was responsible,” Watts said. “Instead of fixing it they put up a sign warning that vehicles could get caught. The bus driver either didn’t see the sign or, if he did, went over anyway, resulting in the deaths of four good people and injuries to 25 or 30 others.”

CSX spokeswoman Laura Phelps and Echo spokesman John Ferrari said in separate emails that their companies don’t comment on pending litigation.

Phelps had said Wednesday that the railroad can only work four to five feet out from its tracks on a public road, so creating a more gradual slope would be up to the city.

“When CSX knows its trains are going to hit others on that intersection, they have an obligation to deal with that hazard,” Watts said.

Biloxi Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich had been working with the railroad to close some crossings, but the Main Street crossing was not on a list of those scheduled for discussion at a March 21 hearing.

Gilich said Wednesday that he will use recommendations from CSX and the NTSB, which is investigating the crash, to minimize the chances of another fatal wreck.

The crossing has had at least 17 accidents involving vehicles and trains since 1976, though 11 involved moving cars or trucks — including one in which an automobile hit the 38th car of a train that had stopped on the crossing.

Two other wrecks involved cars which were “stalled or stuck” on tracks; neither report had any clarifying details.

At least two people had died there before Tuesday, including a Biloxi city councilman struck by a train in 1983.

In addition to the Hoffmans, those killed in the crash were identified as Clinton Havran, 79, of Sealy, Texas, and Deborah Orr, 62, of Bastrop, Texas.

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