Amtrak train crash in South Carolina leaves 2 dead, 116 injured

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COTTONWOOD, Al. (WTVY) CAYCE, S.C. -- At least two people were killed and 116 others injured when a train traveling from New York to Miami struck a freight train Sunday morning, authorities said. The crash left thousands of gallons of oil spilled at the scene near Columbia, South Carolina.

The collision occurred in Cayce around 2:45 a.m. Sunday, Lexington County spokesperson Harrison Cahill said. He said the injuries ranged from scratches to broken bones.

The two victims were later identified as Amtrak personnel. Lexington County Coroner Margaret Fisher said 54-year-old engineer Michael Kempf and 32-year-old conductor Michael Sella were killed in the collision.

There were approximately 148 people aboard the Amtrak Train 91, including 139 passengers and eight crew members.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said the CSX freight train was on a loading side track "where it was supposed to be" before the collision and the Amtrak train was "on the wrong side." He did not elaborate.

Authorities said the freight train spilled 5,000 gallons of fuel, but hazmat teams were dispatched to the scene and determined the leak was not a danger to the public.

Amtrak said the lead engine and a few passenger cars derailed on Train 91. The crash happened near a stretch of tracks by a rail yard about 10 miles south of Columbia, where several track spurs split off for freight cars to be unloaded.

Passenger Derek Pettaway told CBS News that he was sleeping when the train began "shaking violently" before coming to a sudden halt. "You knew we'd hit something or we'd derailed," Pettaway said over the phone. "The Amtrak crew was really great. They responded quickly and got everyone off the train."

Elliot Smith told Columbia newspaper The State he was at a friend's house when they heard what sounded like a propane tank exploding. Smith and his friend walked to the crash site and saw passengers of all ages beginning to exit the train.

"The sound was so loud, you instantly knew it was bad," Smith said.
"More people were shocked than shaken from the crash," Pettaway said from the local Red Cross shelter where other train passengers were being transported.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said it was traveling to the scene to investigate the crash.

President Trump has been briefed on the crash and is receiving regular updates, Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters said Sunday morning. Mr. Trump, who is currently at his golf club in West Palm Beach, Florida, tweeted his condolences to the victims.

"My thoughts and prayers are with all of the victims involved in this mornings train collision in South Carolina," he tweeted. "Thank you to our incredible First Responders for the work they've done!"

Investigators will be looking into what was going on inside the engineering cab, if the signals on the tracks were working, how the two trains ended up on the same track and why operators didn't know the other train was there, CBS News transportation correspondent Kris Van Cleave reports.

The crash comes several days after an Amtrak train carrying Republican members of Congress hit a garbage truck in Virginia. One of the truck's passengers was killed in the collision.