LUBBOCK, Texas - The driver of a parade float involved in a train wreck that killed four war veterans in West Texas told investigators that the oncoming train appeared to be stationary and that he did not notice anything was wrong until he saw people jumping from the float, according to documents released Wednesday.
Dale Hayden has never spoken publicly about the crash in Midland on Nov. 15. He told federal investigators he was focused on his left-side rearview mirror as he crossed the tracks, looking for a bump in the intersection so he could provide the veterans riding on the flatbed trailer a smoother ride, according to documents released by the National Transportation Safety Board.
As he looked through his right window, the oncoming Union Pacific train appeared to have stopped, he said. It was not until he looked in his rearview mirror that he saw people jumping from the float.
"When I looked in the right mirror, that's when I saw the flashing lights. But at first it didn't register. It just - to me there was just flashing lights, more flashing lights," Hayden told investigators Feb. 20.
"But [the train] looked like it was just sitting there. It didn't - I didn't see it moving or anything."
The NTSB has said that the train was traveling about 62 m.p.h. at the time and that warning lights on the tracks appeared to be working.
The truck was carrying veterans and their spouses as part of a three-day weekend of banquets, deer-hunting, and shopping to honor the troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were on their way to a banquet, being cheered by a flag-waving crowd, when the crash occurred.
Hayden's interview was among hundreds of pages of information released Wednesday by the NTSB that were compiled during the federal agency's investigation. His attorney has said that Hayden - himself a military veteran - was devastated by the accident.
Most of the couples on the float are suing Union Pacific, alleging negligence.
The train's conductor, Nathan Scott, told investigators that when he saw the truck pull onto the tracks, he knew the train was going to hit it. He said he couldn't quite see what was on the trailer at the time, but once he saw it was carrying people, operators put the train into emergency mode.
"By then it was too late," he said.