Wednesday 13 December 2017

Train driver faces 79 counts of homicide over horror crash

Train driver Francisco Garzon is taken to court by police
Train driver Francisco Garzon is taken to court by police

Fiona Govan Santiago de Compostela

The driver of a Spanish high-speed train that derailed and killed 79 people was released on bail late last night pending trial on charges of reckless homicide.

Francisco Garzon (52) had been under arrest since Thursday. He is suspected of driving the train too fast through a tight curve on the outskirts of the northwestern Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela.

Examining Magistrate Luis Alaez formally charged Garzon with "79 counts of homicide and numerous offences of bodily harm, all of them committed through professional recklessness", the court said in a statement.

In a closed-door hearing before Judge Alaez in the city courthouse, Garzon admitted taking the curve too fast, blaming it on a momentary lapse, according to media reports.

Alaez set the following conditions of release: Garzon must check in regularly with the court, surrender his passport and not drive trains.

Garzon did not have to post bail. None of the parties in the case, which include state train operator Renfe, state railway firm Adif and two insurance companies, had asked for Garzon to be jailed pending trial, and he was not seen as a flight risk, the court statement said.

At 8.41pm on Wednesday the eight-carriage, high-speed train slammed into a concrete wall, crumpled, and some of the cars caught fire.

The impact was so strong that one of the carriages was thrown several metres high over an embankment.

The death toll from Spain's worst train disaster in decades rose to 79 after one injured person – a woman from the United States – died yesterday.

Seventy people remain hospitalised with injuries from the crash, 22 are in critical condition.

Garzon has worked for Renfe for 30 years, 10 as a driver.

His father also worked on the railways and he grew up in Renfe-owned housing in the northwestern town of Monforte de Lemos.

After the accident he was hospitalised with a head injury. On Saturday he was released from the hospital but remained in police custody until he was taken to the hearing at Santiago de Compostela's main courthouse.

Alaez has been assigned to investigate the case and will also look at whether the train, the tracks or the security system that slows down the trains were at fault.

The Alvia train involved in the accident, one of three types of high-speed train services that run in Spain, received a full maintenance check on the morning of the journey, the head of Renfe said, and security systems were in good shape.

"As far as we know, the train was in perfect condition when it set off on its journey," Renfe President Julio Gomez-Pomar told newspaper ABC.

The Alvia trains run both on traditional tracks, where drivers must heed warning systems to reduce speed, and on high-speed tracks where a more sophisticated security system will automatically slow down trains that are going too fast.

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

Irish Independent

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