by Ari Armstrong, 11:40 a.m., June 10, 2008
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It remains “too early to determine” whether accident or crime caused the late June 9 train derailment in Westminster, said Investigator Trevor Materasso of the Westminster Police Department around 11:00 a.m. “We haven’t made any arrests,” and the investigation remains “very preliminary,” he said.
Materasso said that sixteen of the total 37 train cars derailed, in addition to four locomotives.
He said, “Burlington Northern is taking over the lead in the investigation… We’re asking people to recognize that this is a crime scene… We want to ensure that evidence and things aren’t tampered with so that the investigation can continue without any problems.”
One of the two northbound lanes of Wadsworth Parkway is expected to remain closed south of Independence (the 96th block) “at least through rush hour” and “possibly indefinitely,” Materasso said; “Burlington Northern is still bringing in a lot of equipment.”
As I was the first journalist on the scene and (so far as I know) the first to publish the story, perhaps some readers will be interested to learn how this political analyst picked up a story about a derailed train. The short answer is that I live across the street, and I had the time and equipment to cover the story.
I didn’t hear anything because I live in a complex on the far side of the wreck. My neighbor alerted me just after 10:30 p.m. that a train had derailed. It took me a moment to figure out what he was saying; I responded merely, “What?!”
My neighbor was understandably concerned about possible hazardous materials on the train; fortunately, there were none. We walked down Wadsworth to get this news. I briefly considered the residents I’d need to help evacuate if there had been any need; thankfully there wasn’t. (I don’t know about the restrictions of hazardous materials through residential areas on trains, but I assume there are some.)
I tried to imagine what might have caused the derailment; there are no crossing tracks in the area, so a collision between crossing trains was impossible. I figured that either the rail or engine had failed.
I had grabbed my camera, and I asked my wife to follow with a tripod and my audio recorder. We snapped a few pictures as police taped off the area. I totally understand why the police asked onlookers to clear the area. We respected the police boundaries, yet I asserted my right to cover the story.
One officer told me that a spokesperson would be available at a make-shift command center in a parking lot south of the derailment. My wife and I walked there, where we saw an ambulance treating two people. (We learned that only one went to the hospital for minor injuries, thankfully.) The police officers were professional and courteous. One officer told me that a spokesperson would actually go to the north of the accident, so we walked back across the street, up the road, and back over.
As we walked to the area designated for the spokesperson, an officer on a motorcycle asked us to leave the area, and I noted I was headed for the spokesperson. “You’re in a crime area,” the officer said. That got my attention; it hadn’t occurred to me that the derailment might have been intentional. We soon learned that the cause of the derailment was a tree stump or branch on the tracks, which is indeed suspicious, because I don’t think railroads tend to leave large trees overhanging their tracks.
I believe 7News was the second media outlet to arrive (after me). Soon camera operators from four stations mulled about. I learned that they usually get such tips from police scanners, rather than from people calling in. As Materasso prepared to give his interview for the cameras, three of the operators asked me to hold their mikes, as I was already holding up my recorder.
I was thankful that nobody was badly hurt but pained to see the physical destruction. It’s quite a wreck. And, if somebody placed the impediment intentionally, it’s a large crime that destroyed a great deal of property and endangered people’s lives. Given that the wreck happened near my house, I was keen to report it. I’m grateful to the Westminster Police for accommodating the media, including me. I feel I lived up to my journalistic responsibilities.