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Judge questions train driver over crash in Spain

2:16 PM, Jul 28, 2013   |    comments
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SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain (AP) - The driver of a Spanish train that derailed at high speed was being questioned by a judge on Sunday as officials tried to determine if he was responsible for the accident, which killed 79 people.

Francisco Jose Garzon Amo, 52, has been held by police on suspicion of negligent homicide.  He has not been formally charged by a magistrate or made any official statements.

However, minutes after the crash Garzon said that he had been going fast and couldn't brake, a local resident who rushed to the scene of the accident said in an interview broadcast Sunday.

The resident, Evaristo Iglesias, said he and another person accompanied the blood-soaked Garzon to flat ground where other injured people were being laid out, waiting for emergency services to arrive.

"He told us that he wanted to die," Iglesias told Antena 3 television. "He said he had needed to brake but couldn't," Iglesias said. He added that Garzon said "he had been going fast."

The train carrying 218 passenger in eight cars hurtled far over the 80-kph (50-mph) speed limit into a high-risk curve on Wednesday, tumbling off the tracks and slamming into a concrete wall, with some of the cars catching fire.  The Spanish rail agency has said the brakes should have been applied four kilometers (2.5 miles) before the train hit the curve.

On Sunday, Garzon was moved from the police station in the northwestern Spanish town of Santiago de Compostela, near where the accident occurred, to its courthouse just as the deadline of his 72 hours of detention was to expire.

Luis Alaez, the investigative judge, was to question the driver in private and was not expected to comment about it afterward. The judge also was to have access to the information contained in the train's "black box," which is similar to those found on aircraft, officials said.

Investigators must determine if Garzon failed to apply the brakes or whether it was a technical failure.

Previously Garzon had exercised his right to remain silent when police tried to interview him, officials said. Spain's state-run train company has described him as an experience driver who knew the route well.

In its report about the accident, Antena 3 television showed a photograph of Iglesias in a pink shirt and cap helping to carry the driver after the train accident. The station also aired television footage of Iglesias working beside the wrecked train to help other survivors.

In the interview, Iglesias recalled Garzon's words, "'I don't want to see this, I want to die,' that's what he said repeatedly," said Iglesias. "'I had to brake down to 80 and couldn't,'" Iglesias quoted the driver as saying.

On Sunday, the death toll from the train derailment rose to 79 when an injured passenger died at University Hospital in Santiago de Compostela, officials said. She was identified as American Myrta Fariza of Houston, her family said in a statement. Fariza's friends and family had created a Facebook page while she was hospitalized titled "Hope for Myrta," where they collected donations and communicated.

Officials said 70 people injured in the train accident remained hospitalized on Sunday, 22 in critical condition.

Iglesias was among survivors and witnesses who began to give evidence to police on Sunday.

Meanwhile, authorities said forensic experts have identified the last three bodies among the 79 dead.

Victims have been reported from France, Algeria, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, France, Italy, Mexico and the United States, but officials have not publicly identified each victim or his or her nationality.

Mourning continued throughout Spain, with Sunday church services being held in remembrance of the dead.  A large funeral mass is planned for Monday afternoon in Santiago de Compostela, and the prime minister and royal family are expected to attend.

The crash has cast a pall over the town, a Catholic pilgrimage site. Santiago officials had been preparing for the religious feast of St. James of Compostela, Spain's patron saint, but canceled it after the crash and turned a local sporting arena into a morgue.

___

Heckle contributed from Madrid, and AP correspondent Ramit Plushnick-Masti contributed from Houston.


(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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