WASHINGTON – A train carrying congressional Republicans collided with a truck Wednesday in Virginia, killing one person in the truck and sending several others to the hospital, including Minnesota Rep. Jason Lewis.
Lewis, his staff said, suffered a concussion when the train slammed into a trash truck at a rural crossing. Members of the Republican caucus, their families and staff had chartered the Amtrak train for a policy retreat in West Virginia.
The impact tossed passengers around the train’s interior and ripped the truck in half, killing one person aboard and badly injuring another.
Minnesota’s three Republican House members were aboard the train and while doctors among the delegation rushed outside to aid the crash victims, they checked in to reassure their constituents back home.
Lewis, the most seriously injured of the delegation, was diagnosed with a concussion but rejoined his colleagues despite the injury.
“Rep. Lewis is grateful for the care of the clinical staff at the UVA Medical Center in Charlottesville,” his spokesman Stephen Bradford said in a statement. “He’s been discharged and traveled on to the GOP retreat, where he is recovering from a concussion. He looks forward to participating in the retreat as much as he is able.”
Lewis himself, in a statement released by his office, said: “I’m fine compared to, tragically, the truck drivers, and thankful for the prompt action of our doctors and first responders.”
An estimated 200 congressional Republicans, their families and staff had boarded the train two hours earlier, bound for the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. The annual three-day policy retreat is scheduled to continue, including planned addresses from President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence
Aboard the train, members, fresh from the previous evening’s State of the Union address, were relaxing and chatting when the train slammed into the truck at the marked and gated crossing. The impact tore through the truck and tossed the train passengers against seats and windows and knocked others off their feet.
Minnesota Rep. Erik Paulsen looked out the window and saw twisted wreckage.
“It was a garbage truck that was completely cut in half with serious injuries,” Paulsen said in a phone call from the accident site. He ran to his colleague, Phil Roe, a doctor from Tennessee, and told him: “You need to get outside right away.”
Outside, he said, the first responders — including several members of Congress — found that the collision had killed one person in the truck and left another seriously injured.
“I went outside and delivered water to one gentleman who witnessed the whole thing. He was pretty shaken up so I just consoled him for a little while,” Paulsen said. “It’s pretty emotional. Everyone’s pretty choked up.”
Rep. Tom Emmer, who was traveling to the retreat with his wife, tweeted: “Jacquie and I are both aboard the train. We are both OK. Thank you to those who have reached out. Praying for all.”
Rep. Robert Pittenger of North Carolina said he was standing at the train’s refreshment stand, waiting to be served a soft drink, when he felt “an enormous slam. … It was a huge jolt. We all hung on to whatever we had.”
Authorities gave no details on the cause of the wreck, which took place at a crossing protected by gates, flashing lights, bells and warning signs. The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team to investigate.
Benny Layne, on whose property the truck landed, said the crossing arms had been known to malfunction often, sometimes not working when a train was approaching, sometimes coming down for no reason. Sometimes, he said, they stayed down for hours.
“A guy was up here just yesterday or the day before taking a look at them,” he said.
Carrie Brown, human resources manager at Buckingham Branch Railroad, which leases the stretch of track and is responsible for maintenance, said she was unaware of any problems with equipment at the crossing.
Florida Rep. Neal Dunn, a former Army surgeon, said he and other lawmakers who are doctors joined other passengers who are nurses or paramedics and jumped out with the basic medical gear they had. They broke into three teams to help the injured people in the truck, he said.
“The first gentleman was somebody who had really, really, really devastating injuries. We did try to resuscitate, but ultimately you had to realize it wasn’t possible,” Dunn said. He said another man in the truck was critically injured and a third was seriously hurt.
Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and his wife, both doctors, were among those who came to the rescue. He said he helped a man from the truck who was badly injured.
“My role was quite simple: I picked up his feet so the blood in his feet would go to his heart and his brain,” Cassidy said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.