Tragedy on the Tracks: 4 dead after train hits charter bus

Published: Mar. 7, 2017 at 7:38 PM CST|Updated: Mar. 8, 2017 at 5:55 AM CST
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The crash happened at Main Street in Biloxi. (Photo source: WLOX News)
The crash happened at Main Street in Biloxi. (Photo source: WLOX News)
(Photo source: WLOX News Now viewer)
(Photo source: WLOX News Now viewer)

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Tuesday's horrific bus/train crash in Biloxi has now claimed four lives. The latest victim was a woman who died around 6:30pm at Merit Health in Biloxi. That brings the death toll to two men and two women.

Dozens of other senior citizens from Texas were injured when the charter bus they were riding on got stuck on the tracks at Main Street in Biloxi. Witnesses said the bus appeared stuck on the tracks and the passengers started to exit when an eastbound CSX train hit the bus broadside.

Thirty-five people were taken to area hospitals. Several had to be airlifted from the scene. Around 50 passengers were on the bus when the crash happened; Seven of them were able to walk away.

SLIDESHOW: First responder's photos capture aftermath of train, charter bus crash in Biloxi

"This is a sad day. Our thoughts and prayers are with those in this tragedy, and, of course, with their families," Biloxi Mayor Andrew "FoFo" Gilich said. "The Good Lord doesn't give you more than you can handle, and we're going to learn from this as we go forward. We owe that to the people on this bus today and to the 5.7 million people who visit our city each year."

The identities of the victims were expected to be released Wednesday morning. But late Tuesday night, the Lockhart Post-Register in Texas reported two of the victims were a couple, Kenneth and Peggy Hoffman.

"We want to express our thanks to the clergy members who were on the scene this afternoon," Biloxi Fire Chief Joe Boney said. "We had clergy members from all denominations at the scene, assisting and comforting the injured, and, yes, providing Last Rites to those who perished."

Family members of those on the bus may call the Biloxi Police Department at (228) 392-0641 with questions or for assistance in reaching their loved ones. Those involved in the crash that were not hospitalized will be lodged at Hollywood Casino in Bay St. Louis Tuesday night.

Biloxi Police Chief John Miller said it is unclear at this time why the bus was stopped on the tracks. The bus, operated by Echo Transportation, was out of Austin, TX.

"Our specially trained accident reconstruction team will work with federal authorities, the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Rail Administration and others, along with CSX investigators, to determine exactly what happened this afternoon," Chief Miller said.

Ameet Patel, Senior Vice President of Regional Operations for Penn National Gaming, owner of Hollywood Gulf Coast Casino and Boomtown Biloxi Casino, said the bus was traveling from Hollywood Casino in Bay St. Louis to Boomtown Casino in Biloxi.

It is with deep regret and sympathy that we can confirm the private charter bus that collided with a train this afternoon in Biloxi was transporting patrons from our Hollywood Gulf Coast Casino in Bay St. Louis to our Boomtown Biloxi Casino approximately 45 miles away.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who tragically lost their lives and all those affected by this accident.  As this is an ongoing law enforcement matter, we are withholding any further comment and are referring all calls to the Biloxi Police Department, with whom we are cooperating fully on their investigation.

The CSX train was headed east when it collided with a charter bus heading north. Emergency crews had to remove people through the emergency windows. Victims were taken to Merit Health Biloxi, Ocean Springs Hospital, and Singing River Hospital in Pascagoula.

This is not the first time there has been trouble at the Main St. railroad crossing. Two months ago, a CSX train slammed into a Pepsi delivery truck that got stuck on the tracks. There is a low clearance sign near the intersection to warn drivers.

CSX workers spent Tuesday afternoon and evening inspecting the train and the tracks to make sure it was safe to roll. Company spokesman Gary Sease issued this statement around 3:45 p.m.:

CSX personnel are working with first responders at a collision of a freight train and passenger bus in Biloxi, Miss. The collision this afternoon occurred at the Main Street crossing. The eastbound mixed freight train, traveling from New Orleans to Mobile, Ala., had three locomotives and 52 cars – 27 loaded cars and 25 empty cars. The crossing has flashing lights and crossing gates. Authorities in Biloxi report three fatalities and many injuries, and our thoughts are with all involved. The train crew was not injured.

Echo Transportation spokesman Jay Ferrari issued the following statement around 3:55 p.m.:

I can't tell you anything more than what you probably already know. We're mobilizing right now to investigate. Once we're ready to make further comment, we will.

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