Chualar, CA Truck And Train Collision, Sep 1963
TRUCK DRIVEN INTO PATH OF TRAIN; 27 MEN DIE.
Salinas, Calif. (AP) -- A speeding freight train shattered a makeshift bus jammed with Mexican field workers Tuesday, killing 27 and injuring 35 in the worst vehicle accident in California history.
At least six of the injured were reported in critical condition today. The 28th victim died hours after the crash at Monterey County Hospital.
Bodies were strewn for half a mile along both sides of the track after the crash at a farm road crossing near the town of Chualar, eight miles south of Salinas.
"Bodies just flew all over the place," said TONY VASQUEZ, 29. He was working in a nearby lettuce field and saw the converted truck ripped into pieces.
VASQUEZ called the California Highway Patrol and then went back to do what he could.
"Two of those men died in my arms," he said.
"One body was hooked under the engine," said Coroner Christopher Hill, Jr. "Shoes, hats, and cutting knives were all around. Everywhere you could hear the injured moaning."
Twenty-two died by the tracks. Others died as 15 ambulances rushed them to three Salinas hospitals.
The workers were returning from a celery field to the Earl Meyers, Co., labor camp near Salinas, 100 miles south of San Francisco.
They rode on four board benches running lengthwise on the flat bed truck.
FRANCISCO GONZALES ESPINOSA, 34, of Salinas, the driver, said he stopped at the crossing and looked to his right. Highway Patrol Capt. Francis Simmons said ESPINOSA declared he did not hear or see the train until the front wheels were on the track.
Engineer ROBERT E. CRIPE of San Luis Obispo said he blasted the Southern Pacific locomotive's whistle when he saw the bus stopped at the crossing.
Astonished and shocked, CRIPE saw the bus move onto the tracks. Before he could slow his train of 70 sugar beet gondola cars, rolling at 50 miles an hour, the engine hurtled into the midst of the jammed workers.
A highway patrol spokesman said ESPINOSA was held on an open charge of felony manslaughter.
"The entire front of the northbound locomotive was covered with sheet metal. The metal formerly was the side of the bus," related Bob McVay, Salinas and King City radio station owner. He reached the scene just as the first ambulance arrived.
Seventeen of the 35 injured were reported in critical condition.
Idaho State Journal Pocatello Idaho 1963-09-18