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Media run after a police car carrying arrested train driver Francisco Jose Garzon Amo on Sunday
Media run after a police car carrying arrested train driver Francisco Jose Garzon Amo on Sunday
Image: AP Photo/Lalo R Villar

Train driver charged with 79 counts of reckless homicide in Spain

The 52-year-old driver has been released on bail and forbidden from leaving Spain for six months.
Jul 29th 2013, 8:41 AM 8,264 19

THE DRIVER OF a train that hurtled off the rails in Spain was charged on Sunday with 79 counts of reckless homicide and released on bail after being questioned by a judge.

The judge ordered him to report to court every week and forbade him from leaving Spain for six months, the High Court of Galicia, which is leading the investigation, said in a statement.

He also banned him from driving trains for six months.

Media reports have suggested that the 52-year-old driver, Francisco Jose Garzon Amo, was travelling at more than double the speed limit for that stretch of the line when the crashed happened.

The train came off the line near the pilgrimage city of Santiago de Compostela, northwest Spain.

(Video: ali ahmad/YouTube)

Police detained Garzon Amo on Thursday, a day after what is Spain’s deadliest rail disaster in decades, on suspicion of reckless homicide.

He was still in hospital recovering from a light head injury he suffered in the crash.

On Sunday, a police car delivered him in handcuffs to the courthouse for the closed hearing. He had spent the previous night in a police cell.

Garzon Amo was dressed in a blue shirt and a scar was visible from his injury.

Just hours before the court hearing began regional health officials said a woman critically injured in the crash had died in hospital, bringing the toll to 79.

Police stand guard as Francisco Jose Garzon Amo leaves the court following his release on bail on Sunday (AP Photo/Lalo R Villar)

The latest victim was a US national, the Galician High Court said, bringing to nine the total number of foreigners who died.

Flowers and candles were placed at the gates of the city’s cathedral, a year-round destination for Roman Catholic pilgrims, which will host a memorial service for the victims on Monday.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who was born in Santiago de Compostela, and Crown Prince Felipe are scheduled to attend the service.

A woman fixes a bunch of flowers on a fence above the railway tracks at the scene of the accident. (AP Photo/Lalo R Villar)

“We are really feeling the impact. People are praying. It is a great tragedy,” said 70-year-old Marlen de Francisco, who sells souvenirs in the cathedral square.

“All day people are asking me for note paper so they can write messages and put them on the cathedral gates.”

Speed warning

The president of the Spanish rail network administrator ADIF, Gonzalo Ferre, said Garzon had been warned to start slowing the train “four kilometres before the accident happened”.

El Pais newspaper, citing investigation sources, reported that he had told railway officials by radio that the train had taken the curve at 190 kilometres an hour — more than double the 80 kph speed limit for that section of track.

Derailed cars are removed as emergency personnel work at the site of the train accident (AP Photo/Lalo Villar)

A resident who rushed to the scene said in a television interview broadcast Sunday that the driver told him minutes after the crash he had been unable to brake.

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“He said he had to brake to 80 and couldn’t, that he was going fast,” Evaristo Iglesias told Antena 3. Along with another man, he said, he had accompanied the driver to a stretch of flat land where other injured people were being laid out after the accident.

He kept saying ‘I want to die! I want to die! I don’t want to see this!

State railway company Renfe said the driver had been with the firm for 30 years, including 13 years as a driver, and had driven trains past the spot of the accident 60 times.

‘No technical problems’

El Mundo newspaper on Sunday printed extracts from the train’s route plan, indicating that ahead of the bend the train passed from a stretch of track with a speed limit of 220 kph to one with a limit of 80 kph.

The newspaper said it was “surprising” that it was left entirely up to the driver exactly when to brake as the train entered the curve.

Rail personnel and firefighters inspect derailed cars at the site of the train accident. (AP Photo/Lalo Villar)

Some media reports described Garzon Amo as a speed freak who had once posted a picture on his Facebook page of a train speedometer at 200 kph.

Renfe said the train had no technical problems and had just passed an inspection on the morning of the accident.

But the secretary general of Spain’s train drivers’ union, Juan Jesus Garcia Fraile, told public radio the track was not equipped with braking technology to slow the train down automatically if the driver failed to do so when required.

Many of the passengers were said to be on their way to a festival in honour of Saint James, the apostle who gave his name to Santiago de Compostela.

“As a believer, I wonder how Saint James can have allowed this to happen,” said Pedro, a grey-bearded pilgrim from Cantabria in northern Spain, wearing a cape and using a walking stick.

- © AFP, 2013

Previously: Spanish judge to question driver of train in deadly crash >

Read: The arrested Spanish train driver is refusing to answer police questions >

Read: Three days of mourning in Spain after deadly train crash >

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