Costilla County Train Accident

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Dec 11, 2002
A tractor-trailer erupted into flames moments after it slammed into the San Luis Express as it traveled through Blanca in southern Colorado Wednesday afternoon, leaving scores of tourists stranded or injured, witnesses said.

Connie Frick of Aurora was on the second of two cars being pulled by an engine back to Alamosa about 4:30 p.m. when she heard a crash and saw the cab of the 18-wheeler slide along the first car as the train ground to a stop. In a flash, the cab of the truck caught fire.

"We felt the impact, and all the debris started coming in the windows," she said. "When everything came to a stop, the fire was right in front of us. It was a massive fire."

Frick said she made her way through the first car to an exit as the train crew helped passengers, many of them disabled or dazed from the crash. "There was some pretty rough terrain as we got out," she said.

Costilla County dispatcher Wendy Miracle said the sheriff's office is investigating, but official details were scare Wednesday night. She said at least one person was injured.

An employee at Rio Grande Scenic Rail Excursions, which runs the train trips, said company president Ed Ellis was at the scene. He did not immediately return a message left on his cell phone.

The trip, one of two operated by the company, departs Alamosa and passes through the Sangre de Christo Mountains on its way to La Veta before it returns back to Alamosa.

Salina Pacheco, a waitress at Lu's Main Street Cafe, said she was working when someone ran in and told her to call police. Pacheco looked outside and saw the truck, hauling potatoes, on fire. "It was a big fire," she said. "There were flames, smoke. It was bad."

The rail crossing, just down the street from the restaurant, is not marked with barriers or lights, Pacheco said. "You just have to watch for it," she said.

Frick said she didn't hear a squeal of tires or any indication the truck tried to stop before the crash. "I don't think he even saw us," she said.

Pacheco said ambulances took away several tourists, but the injuries appeared minor.

About 60 tourists packed into Lu's to wait for buses to take them back to Alamosa, Pacheco said. The first buses rolled up about 6:45 p.m., and waiting tourists let out a cheer.

"I'm just fine, a little shaken up, but fine," Frick said. "Praise the Lord."

Blanca is about 160 miles south of Denver.
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