Los Angeles, CA Train Derailment, Jan 1956


Impounded Speed Tape of Diesel Reported to Show 71 m. p. h. on 'Slow' Curve

Los Angeles, Jan. 23 -- (AP) -- At least 29 persons lay dead and 150 injured today as officials pushed for an all-out investigation of the grinding overturn of a two-car Santa Fe diesel train last night.
(Police impounded the speed tape of the ill-fated commuter train, the United Press reported. Train officials were heard to say that the tape, which keeps a continuous record of the train's speed, registered 71 miles an hour at the 10-degree curve where a 35 m.p.h. limit is imposed.)
Most of the injured were hurt only slightly.
Search Morgues
As relatives searched morgues and hospitals for their loved ones, the question being asked by authorities was:
Did a "blackout" cause 61-year-old Engineer FRANK PARRISH to take a curve at excessive speed?
Santa Fe officials indicated they will respond immediately to Mayor NORRIS POULSON'S demand for a full investigation into the worst rail disaster in California in nearly 50 years.
A spokesman for the California Public Utilities Commission, senior accident investigator C. E. MILNE, said he will sit on the railroad's hearing which would be the first step in the investigative procedure. He said the Interstate Commerce Commission also probably would send an agent.
15 M.P.H. Safe Speed
MILNE, who spent five hours at the wreck scene within the Los Angeles train yard limits, said: "The train certainly appeared to be going faster than the speed limit."
He said, the safe speed is 15 miles an hour in the area, although PARRISH contends he passed a 35 m.p.h. marker before apparently blacking out.
The possibility of charges against the engineer would depend on action by police and the district attorney.
Bodies were so badly mangled and dismembered -- some were decapitated -- that 14 hours after the wreck the coroner's office had identified only 16 dead. At least two were children.
The highest rail death toll in this state was 32 in 1907.
The train last night was en route to San Diego with approximately 180 persons aboard, about 40 per cent of them service men returning to their bases. It was impossible to determine the exact number aboard, as no tickets are required for children five and under and there were a number of these on the train.
The two cars overturned on their left sides a few minutes after leaving the station at 5:30 p.m. It was dark.
"The people sitting on the left side were sucked right out of the window and caught on the ties when the train crashed on its side," said Flagman BILL HINES, one of the crew of five. "Those people didn't have a chance."
Sparks showered as both overturned cars skidded along with a deathly screeching sound for about 200 feet on the outside of the curve. Each car contained a diesel unit and room for 88 passengers. The accident happened inside the city limits, about four miles from Union Depot.
Autos Delay Rescue
Thousands of homebound motorists, hearing of the wreck on their car radios, drove to the scene, causing an immense traffic jam and delaying some ambulances.
Stunned, injured survivors lay, sat or stood along the ground. Some searched for missing relatives. Many of the badly injured screamed in pain and panic.
Santa Fe President FRED G. GURLEY said in Chicago:
"All indications are the accident was caused by undue speed."
RAYMOND D. SHELTON, general manager for Santa Fe's coast lines, said, "Engineer FRANK PARRISH estimated his speed at the time of the derailment at 50 m.p.h. I think this curve would take about 40 m.p.h."
Blacked Out
PARRISH, 61, of San Bernardino, who has been with the railroad 37 years, said he had slowed the train after passing a 35 m.p.h. marker and apparently blacked out. The next thing he remembered, the engineer said, was the train beginning to tip over.
Fireman HOMER SMITH was riding with engineer PARRISH, a second man in the cab being customary on Diesel engines. He told a newsman he wasn't aware of anything wrong with the engineer.
MILNE said the PUC had not yet taken any formal statement from SMITH or the engineer.
MILNE said the so-called "dead man's" control on the engine, designed to stop a train if something happens to the engineer, is activated by removal of the engineer's foot from a pedal.
It is possible, he said, that the engineer could have slumped over but with his foot remaining on the "dead man's" control pedal.
Many bodies were crushed and dismembered. Emergency calls went out for doctors, nurses, clergy and blood. Scores of ambulances lined up at the scene. Clergymen of all faiths circulated among the dead and injured, administering final rites or giving comfort.
The first ambulance attendant to reach the scene, DANIEL J. CESAROTTI, said:
"We gave them morphine until we didn't have any more -- and still there were people screaming out in pain. It was like a nightmare."
"There were screams and moans all about us. It was horrible."
"Bodies and parts of bodies were everywhere. Many of the passengers had been crushed in their seats."
"Others had been thrown through the windows of the railroad cars and crushed under them."
"We saw the bodies of two children."
"This is the worst we've ever seen."

Los Angeles, Jan. 23 -- (AP) -- A woman trying to escape, stuck in a window, passengers pushing, trampling men, women and children spilled together in a pile, screaming, as the coaches tipped over.
These were some of the tales of terror told by survivors of last night's wreck of a San Diego bound two-car Santa Fe diesel train.
"The train seemed to slew sideways and topple," said FLOYD C. BALLARD of San Diego, who suffered shock and a back injury.
"I tried to get to a window. I remember there was a woman stuck half-way through. I was trampled and pushed, but I managed to get up on my feet. I don't know how I got out -- but then there I was, outside the train."
"People were screaming and sobbing ..."
ANDREW DURHAM, 33, Seattle, a Navy chief electrician's mate, said he thought the train was going too fast.
"The baggage started coming out of the rack," he related. "I grabbed for the luggage rack and held on."
"We went over."
"There were half a dozen sailors in our compartment. We started helping the people into the vestibule. One of the sailors put a tourniquet on a man's leg .. I never saw anything like this."
DURHAM is a veteran of 15 years in the Navy.
The REV. FATHER FIDELIS KUBAN of St. Turibius Church nearby, one of the first to reach the wreckage, entered a car by clilmbing to the upturned side and dropping through a doorway.
The REV. FATHER OLIVER A. LYNCH of St. Joseph's Catholic Church crawled along with doctors through the wreckage to administer extreme unction.
Lobbies of several hospitals were thronged with anxious people throughout the night.

Los Angeles, Jan. 23 -- (AP) -- The coroner's office identified the following as killed in the Santa Fe train wreck:
SGT. JOHN E. WILLIAMS, 55, USMC, Camp Pendleton.
ALBERT WARREN ______, 50, Lakeside, Calif.
MRS. MARJORIE AHMAN, 26, Sioux Falls, S. D., (MRS. AHMAN was four months pregnant.)
G. G. HARVEY, aged 18 or 19, U. S. Navy.
ELEANOR HOPKINS, 65, Pacific Beach, Calif.
LT. DONALD B. LUND, of the USS Rochester, temporarily stationed at San Diego Naval Base.
MRS. MAY GOLDBERG, Garden Grove, Calif.
MRS. ANNETTE FRAZIER, 17, Houston, Tex., en route to San Diego to join husband, Marine Sgt. Raymond D. Frazier.
EVA LIPTON, believed to be of San Diego.
MARCELLE C. MEYER, Garden Grove, Calif.
THOMAS FERGUSON, 32, La Mesa, Calif.
LILA FERGUSON, 30, his wife.
MRS. ANDREW FOSTER, 25, and CHARLES FOSTER, JR., 23 months, San Diego.
_____________________________, S. D. (Note: Name is Unreadable)
WILSON A. LAROWE, 38, San Diego, sailor.

Oakland Tribune California 1956-01-23


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Learning about my Grandmother's Demise from this Tragedy

My father told me that my grandmother died in a train wreck and while I for many years simply accepted it, recently, I got curious. I started to look at train wrecks during the 1950's and this one jumped out at me. The more I read about it, the more I started to realize that my grandmother was probably on this train. And sadly, when I read this article, I saw my grandmother's name - Eleanor Hopkins. I really would have loved to known her. I was born just about 4 years after this train wreck. I, like many others who have written, were denied the opportunity to spend time with their loved ones who lost their lives on this train wreck. I am thankful to this author to having written the history of this accident. Although I, like many others, am saddened and mournful for the pain and loss this crash caused, I feel I now have some closure on the this. In a strange way it helps. I hope others who read this will find a similar amount of closure to what happened that night in 1956.

Annette Clayton Frazier

Message to Raymond Frazier:
Hi Raymond,

I doubt that you remember me, but I first knew of you when you and your friend Jack Macy attended Burbank Junior High with my older sister Faye. Annette and I were in the same grade and she became one of my best friends when we attended summer school together in 1955. Her goal was to graduate earlier in January following her marriage to you the previous month, and to join you in California. (I helped serve at your reception.)

Annette's untimely death has always been hard for me to get over as well. It's always felt like a bad, bad dream. On one of my visits back to Houston several years ago (from CA), my sister was driving us around town to show my husband various places of my life in Houston. When we were in our old neighborhood showing him the bus stop and route that we took to school, we drove by Crosstimber and I was surprised to see a sign, Clayton Music, at Annette's old home. We decided to take a chance and knocked on the door. Annette's mother answered the door, and we had such a nice visit. I had only met her once at the time of your wedding, and I remembered her as being a larger woman. She was now a very small and frail elderly person. She spoke of you and shared the last address that she had for you. She also told me how hard Annette's death was on her younger brother as she died on his birthday.

Hopefully this message will get to you somehow. It was good to read that you were at a good place in your life (in 2008). I hope that you and your family continue to be well. Next year will be our 60th JDHS reunion. If the timing is good, I hope to attend it as well as my sister's 80th birthday.

Jasmine (Wan) Lim

1956 Santa Fe Train Wreck

My mother, Helen Farmer & my grandmother, Marcelle Meyer were on the train. Marcelle was killed. She was one of the ones thrown out the window & killed under the train. My mom survived the crash, but broke her back & had a head injury & was in constant pain the rest of her life. Marcelle was killed 3 months before I was born.My mom was the best mom ever. My heart still breaks for her for what she went through emotionally & physically.

William Albert Fenn was my

William Albert Fenn was my grandfather, married to my grandmother Marcella Harris Fenn. They both passed in this train and left behind 5 surviving children, the oldest my mom Anita Louise Fenn later known as Lee by adopted parents in San Dirgo. My mom was 12 at the time of the wreck.

William Albert Fenn was my

William Albert Fenn was my grandfather, married to my grandmother Marcella Harris Fenn. They both passed in this train and left behind 5 surviving children, the oldest my mom Anita Louise Fenn later known as Lee by adopted parents in San Dirgo. My mom was 12 at the time of the wreck.

William Albert Fenn

William Albert Fenn was married to my mother's (Avis Leora Harris) sister Maecella (Harris) Fenn, I believe was killed on this train at Redondo junction. I am also trying to research information about them both. I am wondering if Marcell Murphy is maybe her, but the name is wrong.

List of train persons from 1956 22 jan. wreck.

I am looking up a person namely William Albert Fenn died on 22 Jan. 1956.
I was told that a family (a person that I am helping to locate family members) had come to this site of Redondo Junction to id William. Could be spelled Finn also. I looked on allot of stories and the same information is on most of them. Is there anywhere there is a more in depth list of the people that passed on the train wreck. My gentleman does not show up on the list unless his name is the one that was unreadable. Maybe someone knows where more information about them could be found as to which hospital had them or mortuary handled their case, or were they were buried. All I have is the father had the same last name Fenn and the mother's maiden name was Murphy. I am not trying to bring up bad memories just trying to connect this person to a family if possible. Thanks.
I hope time has eased the pain of the loss for this family because of this persons passing.

Mrs. Eva Lipton was my husband's Great Grandmother

Mrs. Eva Lipton and her husband, Charles Lipton were passengers on this train. They were travelling to a Gift Show in San Diego to buy things for their Gift Shop in Compton, CA. Eva was thrown forward when the trains derailed and was swallowed up in a mass of bodies. She was killed instantly. Her husband had to identify her by her jewelry and wedding ring. She left behind three children; two sons and a daughter, Evelyn Lipton. Evelyn was my husband's grandmother and had a hand in raising him when he was younger. She passed away at the age of 94 on August 6th, 2011...the last of the Lipton family. Eva left a wonderful legacy and we hope that the families of others affected by this tragedy are carrying on the memories of their loved ones as well!

Beside the conductor, I was

Beside the conductor, I was the first on to see this train wreck. It was early evening on a Sunday nite, a group of about 5 of us had just left the Verne Theater after watching a movie. We were walking home along Olympic blvd and I ran up ahead on the bridge overpass, as I looked down I saw a train going underneath at a very high speed, I followed it until it came to a curve and there were alot of sparks, when I got home there was a bulletin on tv stating there had been a train wreck. The next day I went to school (A catholic School) and was told that the priest had gone to the wreck to give Last Rites to people that had passed. This is the first I have ever spoke of this. But the speed of that train was very scary. Sorry for your loss.