Started in 2004, the non-profit organization "Show of Support Military Hunt, Inc." began offering an opportunity for those men & women who have been injured while serving our military during the war in Iraq. As the event begins, the soldiers (and their families) are treated to a private lunch, leading up to the "Show of Support" parade. When the parade is done, the trucks and trailers carrying the soldiers and their families, head out to the Horseshoe Arena where they are feted with a banquet in their honor. The following day, they are treated to an all expenses paid white-tailed deer hunt, while their spouses are treated to a variety of activities in Midland. This program was started as a way for us to give back to wounded soldiers from all over America, in a way that is unique to West Texas. This year, they never made it to their scheduled hunt.
This year, we fell short of that task when all Hell broke loose at 4:36 PM last Thursday. As the parade ended and the floats made their way to the banquet being held at the Horseshoe Arena, tragedy of unbelievable proportion befell these wounded warriors once again. As one of the trucks was trying to get across the train tracks, the flashing lights and bells signaling a train was coming, began. The crossing gates began coming down on top of the flat bed trailer and the truck pulling it. Confusion and chaos ensued as a Union Pacific Railroad train traveling 62 MPH slammed into the parade float, killing 4 of those heroes that were to be honored. When the dust cleared we learned that 4 of the 24 veterans were killed and at least 16 others were injured and hospitalized.
Our small city is still reeling from the shock of this horrible accident, although thousands of people made themselves available to help or give blood. We could not give back the precious human lives that were inadvertently taken that afternoon.
Now under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSA), it has already been learned that the railroad warning system's lights and bells were activated 20 seconds before the crash. The arms of the crossing gates descended 7 seconds later, 13 seconds before the crash. The parade float reportedly began to cross the north rail at 12 seconds before the crash, meaning that the truck began crossing the tracks just after the crossing arms began to descend. The train's engineer blew the warning horn for 4 seconds, just 7 seconds before slamming into the parade float. The train's emergency brakes were engaged 5 seconds before impact and came to a stop 75 seconds later.
Two of the Iraq War veterans were killed instantly, while two others died at a local hospital, where more than a dozen other people were taken for injuries received in the crash. Our hearts are heavy with grief for these wounded warriors and their families, that we failed to protect.
That being said, the route that had been chosen for the parade, was the worst possible intersection to go across the railroad tracks. Admittedly, there are at least five other streets (if not more) to cross over the tracks, that were not as dangerous as this particular intersection. It was thought that more people on the parade route would be able to see the heroes as they left downtown, heading toward their banquet at the Horseshoe Arena. What the people saw instead, was this unspeakable tragedy and loss of life. We are a city wrapped in sorrow, questions, and regret; praying for the families of those lost....