Emeryville-bound train derails; one person dead

By Joe Ruff Associated Press Writer
Monday March 19, 2001

Overnight Amtrak crash injures 90; investigators unsure what caused wreck 


OMAHA, Neb. – Tony Plocinik and his wife, Joann, were thrown across their train car when an Amtrak train derailed in southwest Iowa. 

“All of a sudden, bam, we flew,” he said. “I went flying off and hit the chair and seat and she landed on top of me.” 

One person died and 90 were injured in the wreck Saturday night. Investigators had not determined what caused the accident, which left twisted train and rail wreckage. 

“It was devastating, and fortunate that only one person was killed,” Plocinik said. 

Exhausted survivors on the 195-passenger train huddled on chairs and sofas in several Omaha hotels after being bused 60 miles from the wreck. 

Amtrak arranged for them reach their destinations by whatever means they chose — airplane, bus or perhaps even another train. 

After the derailment, passengers stood outside or inside the wreck and watched red rescue lights streak the darkness. People from nearby Nodaway, Iowa, scrambled to help and area farmers used their trucks to take many survivors to hospitals and a nearby shelter. 

Plocinik, 69, of Eastpointe, Mich., was sleeping next to his wife when the train derailed. His neck and left shoulder were jarred, but he wrestled open two emergency exit windows in the darkness. He said it took only 15 minutes for rescuers to arrive, and an Amtrak employee handed him an emergency light stick that illuminated the compartment. 

“All of the seats in that little compartment were twisted,” Plocinik said. “The luggage rack was twisted metal and baggage was jammed. You couldn’t get out of the emergency door, only the windows.” 

Passenger Mary Clare Maloney, 16, of Des Moines, Iowa, said she waited more than an hour in her car’s upper level to be rescued. The car was at a 45-degree angle, she said, tipped so passengers had to walk on the wall and not the floor to get out. “That was kind of weird and dizzying,” she said. 

Beth Giudcessi, a classmate of Maloney’s, was traveling to Colorado with her and seven other students for a ski vacation. 

“There was a sudden push, just a sharp turn to the right and we were thrown against the wall. It happened very quickly,” Giudcessi said. 

Maloney and others did not blame Amtrak for the wreck. 

“It was one of those things that just happened,” she said. “There was nothing they could do about it.” 

Briana Dreyer, 14, of Des Moines, was traveling with her father and a friend to ski in Glenwood Springs, Colo., during a weeklong break from school. She said she would board another train so she could enjoy her vacation. 

“I’ll be scared,” she said, “but I mean, it’s spring break.”