CAYCE, S.C. (AP/WNCN) – Passenger Eric Larkin told The Associated Press he was jolted awake by the pre-dawn crash as the Amtrak train slammed into a freight train in South Carolina.
Larkin said he felt the train start to leave the tracks as it hit a curve in the railway early Sunday.
“It was shaking, then it started jumping,” Larkin said, adding that his seat came loose, slamming him into the row of seats in front of him. He was seated toward the middle of the train.
Larkin said he heard screams and crying all around him as he tried to get out. Other passengers were bleeding.
His right knee throbbed from where it banged the row of seats in front of him.
Walking with a limp, Larkin said he was dazed and didn’t know where he was when the train finally came to a complete stop.
“It’s a blessing to be alive,” said Larkin, a resident of Pamlico, North Carolina, speaking outside a middle school were passengers were taken. “I thought that I was dead.”
Once he got off the train, Larkin said arriving police officers told him to stop taking photos of the crumpled train and not to share any of the images he had already captured.
“I thought it was a little strange,” Larkin said of the request.
The locomotives of both trains were left crumpled, the Amtrak engine on its side. One car in the middle of the Amtrak train was snapped in half, forming a V off to one side of the tracks.
Engineer Michael Kempf, 54, of Savannah, Georgia, and conductor Michael Cella, 36, of Orange Park, Florida, were killed, Lexington County Coroner Margaret Fisher said.
“Any time you have anything that happens like that, you expect more fatalities. But God blessed us, and we only had the two,” Fisher said, her voice choked with emotion.
Of the 116 people taken to four hospitals, only about a half dozen were admitted. The rest had minor injuries such as cuts, bruises or whiplash, authorities said.
On Wednesday, a chartered Amtrak train carrying Republican members of Congress to a retreat slammed into a garbage truck in rural Virginia, killing one person in the truck and injuring six others.
And on Dec. 18, an Amtrak train ran off the rails along a curve during its inaugural run near Tacoma, Washington, killing three people and injuring dozens. It was going nearly 80 mph (128 kph), more than twice the speed limit.
With the recent string of crashes, “it’s becoming almost like an epidemic for Amtrak,” said Najmedin Meshkati, a University of Southern California engineering professor who has studied positive train control.