Valdosta Daily Times

Top News

August 2, 2013

Spanish train driver can’t explain why he crashed

MADRID — The driver of the train that derailed in northwestern Spain, killing 79 people, has said he was traveling at twice the speed limit when he approached a treacherous turn.

But, sitting uneasily before a judge, he waved his hands in front of his face and was at a loss to explain why he didn’t slow down in a courtroom video released by a Spanish newspaper Thursday.

“I can’t explain it,” Francisco Jose Garzon Amo said, shifting in his chair and looking around. “I still don’t understand how I didn’t see ... mentally, or whatever. I just don’t know.”

The journey was “going fine” until the curve was upon him, he said. When the danger became clear, he thought, “Oh my God, the curve, the curve, the curve. I won’t make it.”

The edited video of Garzon’s appearance at Sunday night’s court session in Santiago de Compostela, where the accident occurred last week, was released by Spain’s ABC newspaper. Two court officials said the video appeared authentic. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the video has not been officially released.

In it, Garzon, a slightly-built 52-year-old with short-cropped gray hair and glasses, appears shaken and at times hesitant. He sits in a simple chair in front of the judge, with four rows of chairs behind him in the small courtroom.

Garzon is wearing a dark jacket and trousers with an open-necked shirt. Behind him are two men in dark uniforms, and several other unidentified people are in the room. He also answers questions from a prosecutor.

Garzon’s testimony added little new to what is already known about the crash on the evening of July 24 as the high-speed train, carrying 218 people in eight carriages, approached the capital of Spain’s northwestern Galician region. But the video was the public’s first look at the court testimony of the driver who walked away from the accident with a gash in his head.

ABC said its footage showed 18 minutes of excerpts from the full 55-minute session, accompanied by what it said was a transcript of the full session. The paper said it obtained a copy of the video that the court took of the session but has not made public.

The train had been going as fast as 119 mph (192 kph) shortly before the derailment. The driver activated the brakes “seconds before the crash,” reducing the speed to 95 mph (153 kph), according to the court’s preliminary findings based on black box data recorders. The speed limit on the section of track where the crash happened was 50 mph (80 kph).

In his Sunday night testimony, Garzon said he was going far over the speed limit and ought to have started slowing down several miles (kilometers) before he reached the notorious curve.

Asked whether he ever hit the brakes, Garzon replied, “The electric one, the pneumatic one ... all of them. Listen, when ... but it was already inevitable.”

His voice shakes, his sentences break down and he appears close to tears as he replies to a question about what was going through his mind when he went through the last tunnel before the curve.

“If I knew that I wouldn’t think it because the burden that I am going to carry for the rest of my life is huge,” he said. “And I just don’t know. The only thing I know, your honor, sincerely, is that I don’t know. I’m not so crazy that I wouldn’t put the brakes on.”

Garzon said that after the derailment he called central control in Madrid about the accident.

“At the speed I was going and the smashup, though I couldn’t see what was behind me. I knew what I was up against and I knew it was inevitable that there was a calamity and so (I called Madrid) to activate the emergency protocol,” he testified.

Garzon also explained a photograph on his Facebook page which showed a train speedometer registering 124 mph (200 kph). He said he took the photo “as a laugh or whatever you want to call it” while a colleague was driving a test train on a different track some time ago.  His Facebook page was taken down shortly after the crash. It is not known who removed it.

The investigating judge is trying to establish whether human error or a technical failure caused the country’s worst rail accident in decades, and Garzon is at the center of the investigation.

The judge provisionally charged Garzon on Sunday with multiple counts of negligent homicide. Garzon was not sent to jail or required to post bail because none of the parties involved felt there was a risk of him fleeing or attempting to destroy evidence, according to a court statement.

National rail company Renfe said Garzon is an employee with 30 years of experience who became an assistant driver in 2000 and a fully qualified driver in 2003.

Garzon went back to court, voluntarily, to offer more testimony on Wednesday.

In that second appearance, he said he was talking by phone to the train’s on-board ticket inspector moments before the accident and hung up just before the train left the tracks. But that contradicted what the court said the black boxes showed — that Garzon was on the phone at the time of the derailment.

The court said the inspector would testify Friday as a witness. It said the judge has ruled that while the phone call was inappropriate it could not be considered a cause of the accident.

Health authorities say 57 people from the crash are still in the hospital, 11 of them in critical condition.

1
Text Only
Top News
  • Arizona inmate dies 2 hours after execution began

    A condemned Arizona inmate gasped and snorted for more than an hour and a half during his execution Wednesday before he died.

    July 24, 2014

  • Tourism Authority discusses maintenance, advertising

    Though the Valdosta-Lowndes County Tourism Authority lacked a quorum at its monthly meeting Wednesday morning, attending members discussed the June financial reports.

    July 24, 2014

  • Summer Celebration at the Library

    The Valdosta-Lowndes County Library, 300 Woodrow Wilson Drive, holds its annual Summer Celebration.

    July 24, 2014

  • Second 2 None hosts annual Biker’s Fest

    Second 2 None Riders sponsors its 11th Annual Biker’s Fest for Kids starting 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Martin Luther King Park.

    July 24, 2014

  • Today in History for Thursday, July 24, 2014

    Without promising what specific steps he would take, President George W. Bush said in his weekly radio address that his administration was committed to relying on the recommendations of the September 11 commission in waging the war on terrorism.

    July 24, 2014

  • APTOPIX Netherlands U_Stew.jpg 40 bodies from jet solemnly returned to Dutch soil

    Victims of the Malaysian jetliner shot down over Ukraine returned at last Wednesday to Dutch soil in 40 wooden coffins, solemnly and gently carried to 40 identical hearses, flags at half-staff flapping in the wind.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Senate Georgia_Stew.jpg Nunn and Perdue shift to fall battle of outsiders

    New Republican nominee David Perdue and Democratic opponent Michelle Nunn used the first day of the general election campaign to retool the “outsider” arguments they’ve used to reach this point in a race that will help determine who controls the Senate for the final years of the Obama administration.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Taiwan Plane Crash_Stew.jpg Relatives fly to Taiwan plane crash site, 48 dead

    Family members of victims of a plane crash were flying to the small Taiwanese island on Thursday where the plane had unsuccessfully attempted to land in stormy weather, killing 48.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Toddler left in car while mom in labor

    Two women were arrested Tuesday after hospital security personnel rescued a profusely sweating 3-year-old girl from a van in which she had been left late that morning while the toddler’s mother was in labor.

    July 23, 2014

  • SGMC PLACES ON QUALITY HONOR ROLL

    South Georgia Medical Center in Valdosta has been named to the Georgia Hospital Association’s (GHA) Partnership for Health and Accountability (PHA) Core Measures Honor Roll.

    July 23, 2014

Top News
Poll

School starts again in about two weeks. What do you think?

It's still summer. School starts too soon.
Seems like the right time to return.
Abolish summer recess. Make school year-round.
     View Results