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Nurse Recounts the Harrowing Aftermath of Amtrak Train Crash in Missouri


On Monday, an Amtrak train going from Los Angeles to Chicago derailed in the rural countryside of Missouri after it collided with a dump truck carrying rocks that was sitting in the middle of the tracks. The crash killed four people, including the truck driver, and injured dozens more. Authorities say the train rolled on for another 100 feet after it decimated the truck. The cars then toppled over, leaving the train on its side. The surviving passengers were transported to a local high school gym where they were treated by first responders.

Vernie Williams, a nurse from Springfield, Ohio, was onboard the train when the incident occurred. She started tearing up when she started talking about how everyone came together to support each other after the crash.

“People just pitched in and helped everybody. Everybody was helping everybody. Even children were helping. It was really a – such a tragic – it – people were amazing,” Williams said. “And some didn’t make it.”

Blaine Bessemer, a passenger from Atlanta, remembers watching the green countryside roll by the window of the train when the brakes started to screech.

“When he hit those brakes, we all kind of lunged forward, and then there was a loud, loud bang,” said Bessemer. “Well, now that I know what happened, it was like a giant piece of steel hitting a giant piece of stone.”

The entire ordeal happened within a matter of seconds.

“And then people were falling and – people falling everywhere. And then, of course, we came to a stop pretty quickly, and then silence – silence – until everybody realized what just happened. Ugh. And here we are,” Bessemer explained.

Ambulances and helicopters quickly arrived on the scene to transport the wounded to nearby hospitals, including Williams’ brother. She said most of the first responders in this area are volunteers, and the love and support were overwhelming.

“I mean, just everything – we’ll get your luggage, we’ll do this, you know? They’ve just – I don’t know anything that they haven’t done. They’ve been absolutely wonderful. They really have,” Williams added.

Eli Skrypczak was traveling with a troupe of Boy Scouts and his scoutmasters when the crash occurred. They were on their way home to Wisconsin after backpacking in the mountains of New Mexico.

He used an app on his phone on the train to estimate that it was traveling at around 90 mph.

The entire troupe fell onto the side of the train when the cars flipped over. He said the other passengers “started to panic” in the moments after the crash, but soon the Scouts got their wits together and started helping people.

“The adrenaline kicked in, and something took over and I knew what to do,” Skrypczak said. “It was unreal. It still doesn’t seem real to me.” They attended to people who they suspected had spinal cord injuries, while other Scouts started popping open the windows to help people escape.

The Scouts were “getting people out of windows and carrying them down,” Skrypczak told reporters. “I had to carry a couple kids in my arms, two at a time.”

The group even had to perform first aid on their own scoutmasters, who were critically injured in the accident.

“I teach emergency preparedness and first aid, and I don’t know that I would have thought of that,” said scoutmaster Dan Skrypczak, Eli’s dad. “They had the demeanor to think of that. [I’m] so very proud of them.”

Like many rural areas, the intersection is marked by a single road crossing sign. There are no bells or whistles to alert drivers when a train is coming.

Kristofer Riddle, an attorney from Chicago, said these kinds of intersections are dangerous to drivers and passengers.

“Here we’re talking about a train that was carrying over 200 people. And when there’s a mistake that occurs, when somebody makes a poor judgment, somebody isn’t paying attention, when there’s human error – which there always will be – the stakes are way too high,” Riddle said.

A similar incident occurred in Northern California just last weekend when an Amtrak train collided with a sedan in the middle of the intersection. All three passengers inside the sedan were killed.

The National Transportation Safety Board says it is reviewing both accidents to see how they can be prevented in the future.  

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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