BILOXI, Miss. (KXAN) — Four passengers from the Austin area were killed Tuesday when their bus got stuck on train tracks in Biloxi, Mississippi. A CSX freight train then barreled into the bus, with 51 on board, pushing the bus for several hundred feet.
Two of the deceased have been identified by the Lockhart Independent School District as retired administrators Ken and Peggy Hoffman. In a letter to staff, LISD calls the Hoffmans “colleagues, teachers and leaders in our community” who have made a mark on a generation of children.
The death toll, which was previously lowered to three, was raised again as officials learned a woman died at the hospital, bringing the death toll to two men and two women.
Thirty-five passengers were taken to local hospitals after the crash at around 2:14 p.m. The president of Bastrop Senior Center says most of the passengers, who were on a trip to a Biloxi casino, were center members.
“All of the members are personal friends… I am so concerned and, you know, I am asking for prayers,” President Barbara Adkins says.
Officials say it was a chaotic scene as passengers were trapped inside the bus and trying to get out as first responders arrived. The bus was on the tracks for about a minute before the collision happened. Some of the passengers in the back of the bus were able to escape before the crash.
The bus picked up passengers at the First National Bank in Bastrop, Texas on Sunday and were scheduled to come back Saturday on the 6-night trip.
Melissa Ramirez Flores, a daughter of a woman on board the bus, tells KXAN her mother, who is from Lockhart, fractured her back and has sore ribs from the crash.
“Oh so grateful. Just to see the picture on the Internet that was surfacing, that I could see her, that she was physically standing and she seemed to be alright, was just joy to my heart,” says Flores. “I’m just so thankful, thankful that she’s alive and that for the most part she got away with just minimal injuries.”
Hours after the accident, Flores says she learned a Lockhart couple did not survive the crash. She says Peggy Hoffman actually taught her years ago.
“I remember that she used to love to read to us, we’d sit on the carpet and that was one of the favorite things to have her read to us before we went to lunch. Just a very sweet, caring lady,” remembers Flores.
In a statement, CSX says the eastbound mixed freight train was traveling from New Orleans to Mobile, Alabama. The train had three locomotives and 52 cars — 27 of which were loaded. The crossing had flashing lights and crossing gates, CSX says.
The train company says their crew was not injured in the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board is launching a “go team” to investigate the crash. They are expected to arrive in Biloxi Wednesday morning.
“I think this one is particularly of concern because there was another accident right here at the same crossing two months ago. What is it about this intersection is there anything particular in this crossing and that’s what we want to know,” says Robert Sumwalt with the NTSB.
Gov. Greg Abbott releases a statement Thursday evening, saying, “Cecilia and I are deeply saddened by the loss of life in this tragic accident, and we extend our prayers to the families who lost loved ones and to all those affected by this tragedy.”
In 2013, a bus that picked up passengers from the Bastrop Senior Center crashed near Lake Charles, Louisiana on another casino trip. Several people were injured in that crash.