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Texas Prison Bus Crashes Into A Train, 10 Dead

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In West Texas yesterday, a bus carrying prisoners slid off an interstate. The bus plunged off a bridge and crashed onto a passing train below. Ten people on the bus were killed - eight prisoners and two correctional officers. Five others were rushed to a hospital in the city of Odessa. That's an oil patch town that has seen a rise in population and traffic fatalities. From West Texas Public Radio, Tom Michael has this report.

TOM MICHAEL, BYLINE: Below the interstate overpass, a red tow truck drags a white prison bus off the railroad tracks as law enforcement officers pick through debris. Blue medical gloves, cartons of shoes and twisted train parts litter the ground. Employees from UPS create a human chain to toss shipping boxes from a broken railcar up onto the embankment. According to Sergeant Elizabeth Barney of the Texas Department of Public Safety, people - both official and unofficial - are helping to clean up the wreck.

SERGEANT ELIZABETH BARNEY: We have local tow trucks helping us. Again, it's a community effort, you know, to get this horrific traffic crash resolved.

MICHAEL: This is a community that still cringes at the memory of the fatal wreck in November 2012 in which a freight train slammed into a parade float carrying wounded veterans, killing four and injuring 16. But on this Wednesday morning, a prison bus skidded off the icy interstate, smashed through two guardrails and fell down onto an eastbound train, crushing one of the rail cars. Jason Heaton is with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

JASON HEATON: There were three correctional staff members and 12 offenders on board the bus. At approximately mile marker 103, there was a tragic accident.

MICHAEL: The prisoners were being transported almost 500 miles across West Texas from Abilene to El Paso. They were minimum-security offenders. They were lashed to each other sitting handcuffed in pairs, but according to Sergeant Barney, only the driver had to wear a seat belt.

BARNEY: The driver did have to wear their seat belt. It is not required to have the other passengers wear a safety belt. They are not equipped with safety belts.

MICHAEL: The five survivors were transported to Medical Center Hospital in Odessa. Brad Timmons is the hospital district's chief of police.

BRAD TIMMONS: You know, being five level-one traumas coming in at once, it can be a little bit of strain on our daily operations. But here in the last couple years with the growth in the population, the more accidents we're seeing, it's pretty normal.

MICHAEL: Despite the recent sag in oil prices, the sister cities of Odessa and Midland are still boom towns. And growing population means growing congestion on roads not built to handle it. In Ector County, fatal crashes more than doubled in the last two years surveyed. For NPR News I'm Tom Michael in Midland, Texas.

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GREENE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.