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Train Smashes Into Truck, Three Dead

December 19, 1989

STOCKTON, Calif. (AP) _ An Amtrak train smashed into a tractor-trailer in dense fog and derailed Tuesday, killing three people and injuring 54 others, authorities reported.

The engineer and fireman of the locomotive were killed when the engine careened off the tracks, overturned and exploded, the California Highway Patrol said. The patrol said the driver of the truck, which was loaded with chocolate syrup, also was killed.

″I was collecting tickets and then all hell broke loose,″ said conductor Gary Burke. ″I wound up flying into the next car.″

″It was like a nightmare,″ said passenger Phyllis Ferguson of Stockton. ″I was sitting there reading the paper and then crash, fire. I was thrown to the floor. Seats crumpled ahead and behind me. Everybody was screaming and yelling.″

Several passengers said the train and ground were so covered with chocolate from the truck that they slipped when they tried to leave the train.

The train, traveling southbound from Oakland to Bakersfield on Amtrak’s San Joaquin route, was carrying at least 141 passengers.

Patrol spokesman Bob Whitmire said 54 passengers were injured. He said 23 seriously injured people were taken by ambulances to area hospitals, and 31 with less serious injuries were taken by bus.

He said 87 uninjured passengers were taken to the Riverbank Amtrak station, about 20 miles south of the crash site.

Amtrak spokesman Arthur Lloyd said the train was going about 70 mph when it hit the truck. ″Evidently the vehicle ignored lights and went right in front of the train,″ Lloyd said.

The patrol, however, said the cause of the crash was not immediately known. Whitmire said a motorist behind the truck reported not seeing warning lights.

The patrol said the locomotive, pulling five passenger cars, derailed after striking the truck, about five miles southeast of Stockton. The train left Stockton at 9:29 a.m.

The Amtrak locomotive overturned and burst into flames which took crews 90 minutes to extinguish. The truck was demolished, broken into hundreds of pieces, while its load of chocolate syrup coated two of the five passengers cars of the train.

The first passenger car came to rest crosswise across the tracks with one side torn open, and the second car overturned. The final three also derailed, but remained upright.

Claire Austin, a spokeswoman for the Federal Railroad Administration in Washington, D.C., said the train was traveling within the speed limit.

″On that stretch of track the speed limit is 79 mph,″ she said. When asked whether the train should have slowed because of the thick fog, she said that there were ″no clamps on speed on that track because of weather conditions.″

It was uncertain whether dense fog that has made San Joaquin Valley roads dangerous in recent days played a factor in the accident.

The National Weather Service reported there had been zero visibility almost constantly since Monday night in the northern San Joaquin Valley. Dense fog caused a 69-vehicle pileup near Tracy, west of Stockton, Monday morning, and a series of accidents involved 55 vehicles farther south in Merced County.

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