One man was killed and 23 people were injured when a tourist train was struck by a log truck on Cheat Mountain in southern Randolph County Friday afternoon.
The driver of the log truck died at the scene of the accident, police said Friday night.
Randolph County Sheriff Mark Brady declined to release the driver's name "pending notification of family members," but revealed the driver was operating a truck owned by the Pocahontas County-based company H&H Fisher.
"On the top of Cheat Mountain, a train operated by Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad was traveling southwest crossing U.S. Route 250 just south of the Cheat Mountain Bridge when a loaded log truck traveling north on 250 struck the passenger train," Brady said during a press conference Friday at Davis Memorial Hospital in Elkins.
Brady said the impact of the truck caused two train cars to flip on their sides and sustain "extensive damage," adding that the log truck was a "total loss."
"The driver was the only occupant of the log truck and was pronounced dead at the scene," Brady said.
The sheriff said 63 passengers and four crew members were on board the railroad's Cheat Mountain Salamander excursion, an 88-mile journey that climbs an elevation of more than 4,000 feet, traveling along the Cheat River and passing through an 1,800-foot tunnel.
Some passengers were able to climb out of the train without assistance, while others had to be extricated by emergency personnel, Brady said.
Law enforcement officials observed the railroad crossing signal flashing when they arrived on scene and officials deduced the log truck driver had run through the signal.
"There was no braking on the scene noted," Brady said, adding that it's too early in the investigation to determine if the driver's actions were affected by an underlying medical condition. His body has been sent to the state medical examiner's office, Brady said.
Brady said authorities were alerted of the accident at 1:28 p.m. when John Smith, president of the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad, called the Randolph County E911 Center. First responders arrived on scene at 2 p.m., he added, saying the accident took place in a "very remote" and "very rural" area of Randolph County.
Dr. John Veach, director of emergency services at Davis Memorial Hospital, noted that a total of 23 patients were treated at Davis Memorial Hospital, saying three were admitted - two in serious condition and one in stable condition.
"(Another) four patients were transported to Ruby Memorial Hospital, and of those, three are (in) serious (condition) and one is stable," Veach said. "The remainder of passengers did not seek medical evaluation." Veach said he could not comment on the nature of injuries due to confidentiality policies.
Estimates of the number of people injured in the crash fluctuated throughout the day. Randolph County Emergency Services Director Jim Wise told The Inter-Mountain Friday afternoon 45 people were transported from the scene to the hospital by a Randolph County school bus, but many of them declined medical treatment upon arrival.
Veach said when the passengers exited the bus, emergency medical personnel circulated among them to make sure everyone who needed treatment received it.
Randolph County Superintendent of Schools Terry George said the school system was happy to provide the bus to help transport the injured.
"We sent one school bus up at the request of the railroad to bring passengers back to Elkins," George said.
Brady said he was thankful the crash wasn't worse.
"With that many passengers, I am very surprised that we didn't have more fatalities and more serious injuries," Brady said, "but by the good grace of God, we're here now and we only had one fatality."
"This was a very tragic incident that occurred in Randolph County," Brady said, "and my hats go off to the first responders and all the emergency personnel that helped at the scene." Emergency personnel, including firefighters, police and first responders, were called in from Pocahontas and Webster counties to assist.
It was that cooperation that spurred Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to send state Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Jimmy Gianato to Friday's press briefing.
"The governor asked me to come here and commend everyone on their hard work," Gianato said. "This shows how important the training and exercises we do in the field and in the hospital are. The response was excellent today, and the hospital was set up to accommodate all the patients."
Brady said Route 250 will remain closed until all train cars are removed from the scene, estimating the road would reopen sometime this morning.
"When exactly it will reopen is undetermined at this time," he said.
Contact Katie Kuba by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at IMT_Kuba.