Driver in Spanish train disaster quizzed by judge

The driver of a Spanish train that derailed at high speed was questioned by a judge yesterday as officials tried to determine if he was responsible for the accident, which killed 79 people.

Driver in Spanish train disaster quizzed by judge

Francisco Jose Garzon Amo, 52, has been held by police on suspicion of negligent homicide. Reports said he was allowed leave the court last night but his passport was detained.

The train, carrying 218 passengers in eight cars, hurtled far over the 80kph speed limit into a high-risk curve on Wednesday, tumbling off the tracks and slamming into a concrete wall, with some of the cars catching fire. The Spanish rail agency has said the brakes should have been applied 4km before the train hit the curve.

Yesterday Garzon was moved from the police station in the northwestern Spanish town of Santiago de Compostela, near where the accident occurred, to its courthouse just as the deadline of his 72 hours of detention was to expire.

Luis Alaez, the investigative judge, was to question the driver in private and was not expected to comment about it after. The judge was also to have access to the information contained in the train’s “black box”, which is similar to those found on aircraft, officials said.

Investigators must determine if Garzon failed to apply the brakes or whether it was a technical failure.

However, minutes after the crash Garzon said that he had been going fast and couldn’t brake, a local resident who rushed to the scene of the accident said in an interview broadcast yesterday.

The resident, Evaristo Iglesias, said he and another person accompanied the blood-soaked Garzon to flat ground where other injured people were being laid out, waiting for emergency services to arrive.

“He told us that he wanted to die,” Iglesias told Antena 3 television. “He said he had needed to brake but couldn’t.” He added that Garzon said “he had been going fast”.

Previously Garzon had exercised his right to remain silent when police tried to interview him, officials said. Spain’s state-run train company has described him as an experienced driver who knew the route well.

Antena 3 television showed a photo of Iglesias in a pink shirt and cap, helping to carry the driver after the crash. The station also aired footage of Iglesias working beside the wrecked train to help other survivors.

In the interview, Iglesias recalled Garzon’s words: “‘I don’t want to see this, I want to die,’ that’s what he said repeatedly,” said Iglesias. “‘I had to brake down to 80 and couldn’t’,” Iglesias quoted the driver as saying.

The death toll from the train derailment rose to 79 when an injured passenger died at University Hospital in Santiago de Compostela, officials said yesterday. The latest victim was identified as American Myrta Fariza of Houston, her family said in a statement.

Officials said 70 people injured in the train crash remained hospitalised, 22 in a critical condition.

Meanwhile, authorities said forensic experts have identified the last three bodies among the dead.

Victims have been reported from France, Algeria, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Italy, Mexico and the US, but officials have not publicly identified each victim or his or her nationality.

A large funeral mass is planned this afternoon in Santiago de Compostela, with the prime minister and royal family expected to attend.

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