Coroner identifies 2 Amtrak employees killed in train collision in SC; Gov. McMaster says “Appears Amtrak was on wrong track”

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CAYCE, SC (FOX Carolina) –

Officials with the South Carolina Emergency Management Division confirm two people were killed and 116 were injured following a train collision and derailment in West Columbia Sunday morning.

The collision took place near Charleston Highway and Pine Ridge Road around 2:35 a.m. Officials say it involved Amtrak Train 91 which was operating between New York and Miami.

Pine Ridge train incident update: @CountyLex confirms two fatalities, more than 50 injured transported to the hospital. Shelter for passengers open at Pine Ridge Middle School. Media update @SCEMD at 6:30 a.m. #alert

— SCEMD (@SCEMD) February 4, 2018

Amtrak officials say a CSX freight train came into contact with Amtrak Train 91 causing the lead engine to derail, as well as some passenger cars. There were 8 crew members and approximately 139 passengers on board. Emergency responders were able to get all passengers off of the train.

Officials say the 116 passengers who were injured were transported to local hospitals with injuries ranging from small scratches and bumps to broken bones.

The coroner said the two passengers who killed in the collision were Amtrak employees. One was the Amtrak train engineer, 54-year-old Michael Kempf of Savannah, GA; the other person killed was the Amtrak conductor, 36-year-old Michael Cella from Orange Park, Florida.

Coroner Margaret Fisher said considering the circumstances, there should have been more causalities.

“We should have had a lot more casualties, but we didn’t,” said Fisher. “Anytime you have anything that happens like that, you expect more fatalities, but God blessed us.”

Palmetto Health officials say they set up a triage to treat victims on scene as well as on the way to the hospital. An official said during an update around 1:30 that only six of the 62 patients transported to Palmetto Health facilities remained at the facility. He said the rest were treated discharged.

The six patients who remained at the hospital were suffering from solid organ or head injuries, the official confirmed.

The collision also resulted in two leaks of fuel from the trains. Officials estimate about 5,000 gallons spilled as a result. HAZMAT and DHEC are working to secure the leaks. There is no threat to the public, they say.

SCEMD provided an update at 6:30 a.m.:

Deputies with the Lexington County Sheriff’s Office transported those who were not injured to a reception site put together by the Red Cross at Pine Ridge Middle School. Emergency crews will be on hand at the site.

Lizards Thicket is providing food for the displaced passengers and Waffle House is providing coffee. Officials say there are also four buses available to take passengers from the crash to their intended destinations, given they are healthy enough to travel.

Deputies are asking everyone to delay travels near Pine Ridge Road for the next couple of hours.

Anyone with concerns can call the Amtrak Info Line at 1-800-523-9101. They are also able to provide names of those involved in the collision.

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster along with other local officials provided the latest update at 10:30 a.m.

McMaster said the CSX freight train was stationary on the track when the Amtrack train that was heading south, struck the stationary freight train.

“To understand the force that’s involved between two trains, that’s about as forceful as you can get,” said McMaster.

He said a thorough investigation is being conducted, but that it “appears the Amtrak was on the wrong track.” He said it may have been a time factor, but that more will be confirmed as the investigation continues. For now, he asks for prayers for those affected.

As you and your loved ones gather at church and other houses of worship today, we ask that you pray for those affected and the families of those who have passed away in the train collision this morning.

— Henry McMaster (@henrymcmaster) February 4, 2018


Passengers react to crash

A passenger on the Amtrak train described the moments as the Amtrak train collided with the freight train early Sunday morning. He described it as being thrown from one side of the train and then back. He said his head was spinning and everything happened so fast.

The passenger said the feeling was very eerie and that it went completely silent before he heard the boom and then screams. He said he watched as parents held their children close to them, crying and panicking not knowing what to do.

He said he saw a lot of people who were not injured, helping those who were injured off of the train before crews arrived.

The passenger said his leg was injured in the collision, and he was put on crutches as he waited to be evaluated.

Another passenger said he and his wife were both thrown around during the crash and that she ended up a few rows up from him after the crash.

He said it was the scariest moment of his life when he looked over and saw she wasn’t there, but he was relieved when he saw her a few rows up. He said they both were okay.

The daughter of one of the passengers on the train said her mother sustained a foot injury, but that she was going to be okay. She said she was headed to Jacksonville, Florida to spend time with her grandchildren when the crash occurred.

She said she traveled to Cayce, SC from Kingsland, GA to pick her up and make sure she’s okay.

“As long as she’s okay, I’m okay.”

Stick with FOX Carolina for the latest.

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