Spain train crash driver charged with homicide

Train driver Franciso Garzon en route to the hearing yesterday, in handcuffs in a police car. Picture: Getty
Train driver Franciso Garzon en route to the hearing yesterday, in handcuffs in a police car. Picture: Getty
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A TRAIN driver suspected of causing Spain’s worst rail disaster for decades was last night charged with reckless homicide and freed on bail, according to reports.

Francisco Jose Garzon Amo, 52, was taken to court on Sunday evening and formally accused by an investigating judge of causing Wednesday’s derailment, just outside the city of Santiago de Compostela.

Meanwhile, one of the 168 passengers injured in the crash died in hospital yesterday, taking the death toll to 79.

Garzon Amo arrived at court wearing handcuffs after 72 hours in police custody, during which he refused to answer officers’ questions.

According to Spanish media, investigating judge Luis Alaez questioned Garzon Amo for an hour before releasing him with charges. His passport has been withdrawn and he will have to report to a police station every week, reports said.

Victims of the crash include people from the UK, France, Algeria, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, France, Italy, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the United States, according to reports.

Some 75 of those killed were identified through their fingerprints, while additional DNA work was required for another three, after the derailment and subsequent carriage fires left horrifying scenes of destruction.

A spokeswoman at the University Hospital in Santiago de Compostela refused to give any details, but Spanish national broadcaster RTVE said the latest victim was an American woman.

A total of 70 people remain in hospital, 22 of them in a critical condition.

Authorities are in possession of the train’s so-called “black box”, which is expected to shed further light on the cause of the disaster.

In an interview published yesterday, a man living near the crash site told how he had rushed to the scene and heard the driver say he had not been able to brake.

Evaristo Iglesias said he and another person went with Garzon Amo to an area where injured people were waiting for the emergency services.

Mr Iglesias said Garzon Amo told them he “had been going fast” and “had needed to brake but couldn’t”.

Early indications suggested the train was travelling at about 118mph – more than twice the 50mph speed limit – when it crashed while heading into a curve.

The Alvia train received a full maintenance check on the morning of the journey, the head of state train company Renfe said, and security systems were working.

The high-speed trains run on traditional tracks, where drivers must heed warnings to reduce speed, and also on special tracks where a sophisticated security system automatically slows trains that are going too fast.

At the section of the track where the crash happened, it was up to the driver to respond to prompts to slow down.

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy, who visited the crash site soon after the tragedy, is due to return to Santiago, where he was born, for an official funeral ceremony for the victims today.

A week of concerts and other cultural events to mark the city’s annual festival for St James, which attracts thousands of Christian pilgrims, has been cancelled. Yesterday, black ribbons hung on the empty stages.

Injured Briton’s family tell of shock at seeing photo

The stepfather of the only Briton injured in Spain’s worst train disaster for decades has spoken of his shock at seeing photographs of him staggering away from the wreckage.

Mark Woodward, 38, originally from Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, was treated in intensive care for a broken pelvis and ribs and has had his spleen removed.

He was among 168 passengers injured in the derailment just outside the city of Santiago de Compostela on Wednesday night, which left 78 dead.

Robert Spencer said his stepson, who lives in Galicia, the region where the crash happened, with his Spanish wife and daughter, remains in hospital.

He described how he was reading news reports of the event when he came across a photograph of his stepson at the scene, flanked by two people, covered in blood with a ripped shirt.

“That was a shocking thing to see,” he said. “Grateful that he was apparently walking OK and alive, but still a shock.

“There was blood all over them, a huge gash on his stomach and his head had been really bashed about.”

Mr Woodward was injured when he was thrown forwards over the seat in front of him, hitting his head.

Mr Spencer added that his wife had flown over to Spain to be with her son and that he was “just glad” that Mr Woodward’s own young son was not travelling with him on the train.