The Survivors of the Collision on the Stand.
FREIGHT CREW WAS TIRED OUT
Had Been on Duty for More Than Twenty-five Hours When Crash Came.
The railroad commission met yesterday at noon to receive testimony regarding the wreck on the Seaboard that occurred on the 30th of last month between this city and Blaney. The wreck was the head-on collision between the northbound passenger, No. 66, and extra freight, southbound, No. 658.
John Clouds, a brakeman on No. 658, was the first witness put on the stand. He claimed his train left Blaney at 7:05 o’clock Tuesday morning, the day of the wreck; that before leaving Blaney, he told Flagman McDuffie that train No. 66 had not passed Blaney, and also told Engineer Smeck that same. Claims he had no right to signal his train to stop unless so ordered by the conductor. No orders were given to stop, so he got his fellow brakeman, Pete Middleton, to go back on cab with him, when the train started. Said he expected wreck, because he knew 66 had not passed. Claimed he told engineer that 66 had not gone by.
Conductor G. B. Sondley of train, extra, 658 proved to be the star witness. His testimony was as follows; Called at 5:15 a. m., at Hamlet, Monday morning; left Hamlet 6:40; should have left at 6:30; stayed at Osborne 15 minutes; Kollock 50 minutes; Cheraw 2 hours and 15 minutes; Gillespie siding 10 minutes; Patrick 30 minutes; Middendorf 15 minutes; McBee 3 hours and 10 minutes; Bethune 1 hour; Cassatt 1 hour; got car off track here; took part of the train over to Sheppard and left it there, taking wrecking crew back to Cassatt; spent 4 hours and 30 minutes in placing car back on track; Spalding 5 minutes; Camden 50 minutes, and on leaving Camden he received orders to meet No.66 at Blaney. Arrived at Blaney about 6 o’clock Tuesday morning, having been on duty since 5:45 Monday Morning; he and his crew went to sleep after getting in on siding; after being at Blaney about an hour, the Florida Special, No. 21, , passed, going south. Mr. Sondley called to some of his crew to ascertain if no. 66 had gone by and understood the reply was yes; claims he felt confident and absolutely certain that No. 66 had passed while he was asleep; on leaving Blaney he was on rear end of cab, and first intimation he had of wreck was when emergency brakes were applied on his train; thought then a draw-head had been pulled out, but in a few seconds after feeling jar of the brake being applied, the collision came. They hit at 7:17, exactly 25 hours and 32 minutes since the crew had reported for duty, Capt. Sonley stated that he told flagman to signal his train on main line, for he was sure 66 had passed. The morning was a very foggy one and a headlight could be seen but very little distance.
On being asked if the conductors have not a contract with the railroads that after being on duty a certain number of hours a rest can be demanded, he replied that a rest can be demanded only at terminals, and then only after registering that rest was needed. He said he asked the operator at Cassatt to request dispatcher at Raleigh to make work between Cassatt and Columbia as light as possible, as his crew were worn out and worked down, and that the dispatcher replied “O. K.”
Dr. William Weston, the Seaboard local physician, was called to the stand. He stated he was called by the agent here at 8 o’clock Tuesday morning, the 30th, and that he went to scene of wreck, reaching there shortly after 9 o’clock. The injured had been taken from mass of wreckage and were on stretchers in a Pullman when he arrived and after waiting some time to see if other wounded could be found, but there were none, he returned to this city with the injured, arriving shortly after 11 o’clock. In his opinion, Mail Clerk Pattillo died from fracture of skull; Mail Clerk Watkins from scalds; and Colored Fireman White from severe shock and lacerated wounds.
Flagman M. McDuffie of train No. 658 was then asked to take the stand. Claims he was called for duty at 5 o’clock Monday morning, of the 29th ult.,and that he did not sleep any on the road until he reached Blaney, which was about 6 o’clock Tuesday morning. He stated when at Cassatt, after they had been working for several hours getting car back on track; that he was worn out and could hardly stand. When his train got in the hole at Blaney, he went to sleep. He knew that No. 81, south and No. 66, north, were ordered to pass his train at Blaney, but when he awoke he was confident he had heard No. 66 pass, and so at the conductor’s order he signaled the engineer to the main line and had him to place two cars. He then signaled the engineer ahead. First intimation he received of wreck was the applying of the emergency brakes. He was riding in cab when wreck occurred.
McDuffie has been railroading for 13 years, and has been in some slight wrecks, but nothing as serious as this one. He was formerly employed by the Atlantic Coast Line.
Conductor W. M. Whitehurst of train No. 66, passenger going north, was then sworn. He testified that he left Columbia at 6:26 Tuesday morning, about 56 minutes late of schedule time. Had orders to wait at Weddell until 7 o’clock for Florida Special, No. 81 passed his train took main line leaving Weddell at 7:05 o’clock, and met extra 658 at 7:17. His being a superior train, no orders were given him in regard to extra freight No. 658. Did not know anything about this train being on.
Ernest H. Smith, baggage master on 66, testified that he knew nothing further than had been stated by Conductor Whitehurst.
Operator Judson Watson of Blaney stated that he reports for duty at 7 a.m. and remains on until 7 p.m. That he reported at 7 o’clock just as No. 658 was leaving siding. He attempted to get some cars placed, but could not get to train before engineer was signaled ahead. On reporting to dispatcher that 658 had departed from Blaney at 7:09, dispatcher replied that 66 had left Columbia, and for him to attempt to signal freight, but on trying found 658 out of sight. Reported such to the dispatcher, Watson went to neighboring house to phone to Weddell or to Jacobs to signal down one train or other, but no phone connections. There are no telegraph station at either place.
Dispatcher H. W. Purvis on being sworn said that he resided at Raleigh and that he was on duty when the wreck occurred. The orders he furnished the freight crew were to the effect that No. 66 was running 15 minutes late. He gave no orders for 658 to take Siding at Blaney; that conductor, after being furnished with time on other trains, make as far as possible before taking siding, No. 66 had right of track over all trains except No. 81, which passed her while she, No. 66, was on a siding at Weddell. That no order are given 66 on inferior trains. Mr. Purvis said when operator at Blaney reported departure of 658he expected collision. On being asked about rules demanding rest by crews. Mr. Purvis stated that Conductor Sondley was correct in stating that rest can be demanded at terminals, but that no rule stated that rest could not be demanded at between points, and that very frequently he receives request for rest orders and that he always grants suck request, allowing trains to take siding and remain dead until sufficient rest had been secured by crew. That no request had been made of him by the freight crew for rest. If he had received request he would have ordered them to tie up at some switch. Such request are generally made to superintendent or train master.
Mr. Purivs was the las witness called to the stand, and after his testimony the investigation closed.
Conductor Sondley, Engineer Smeck and Flagman McDuffie all have good records and their railroad associates speak in praise of each one of them.
At the conclusion of the taking of the testimony yesterday the commission announced that their decision would be given to the public today.