Toxic Train, Deadly Crash


Later that morning, hazmat teams made it to the crash site.

The dead body of Rusty Rushton, Friar's co-worker and friend of 13 years, was found just outside the loading dock of the steam plant, his shirt in his hands.

Rushton was the father of two boys.

Stein also knew Rushton well.

"[He was] a very good man. The type you trust. If you want[ed] somebody on your side, that was the man to have."

All the bodies found shared the markings of the killer chemical.

Items in their pockets were corroded, and their clothes were bleached white.

Friar found two other dead bodies near the creek, Charles Shealey, a father of three, and 24-year-old John Laird.

Both had helped to rescue people earlier that night.

When Friar found the men, he says they were linking arms. "I have no doubt they were trying to help each other get out."

In all, nine people were found dead, including the train engineer and a Vietnam veteran who required the use of a wheelchair and had died in his home.

His home was about 250 yards from the crash.

More than 500 people were injured. Fifty-four hundred were evacuated from the town for nine days.

Graniteville Now

A year-and-a-half after the catastrophic train wreck, Graniteville still hasn't recovered.

Some people who couldn't escape say they are now suffering from symptoms of the explosion.

Chlorine corrodes the respiratory tract, and can cause severe eye and skin burns, lung collapse and death.

At the time of the wreck, Ashton Davenport was 5 years old and was staying a mile away from the crash at her grandmother's home.

Trees in that neighborhood still haven't come back to life.

Jessica Davenport, Ashton's mother, says her daughter was never sick before the toxic train crash.

"She would ride her bike. She loved riding horses. She loved doing pageants, and she was just a typical child. She could swim in any pool."

After the train wreck, Ashton kept telling her mother that her chest and throat hurt.

Now she's been diagnosed with scarred lungs, breathing problems -- similar to asthma -- and vocal chord damage.

When it's hot and dry, Ashton has to wear a dust mask to go outside to play because she lives on a dirt road. At times, she needs to inhale medication just to help her breathe.

"It's hard to watch your little girl begging for help and there's nothing you can do," Davenport said.

Ashton's family and many others have sued the railroad Norfolk Southern.

An Avoidable Crash

What makes this situation even tougher to handle is the fact that this crash could have been avoided.

It all began with a mistake with the switch that determines which track the train will travel.

Left in the proper position, the switch guides a freight train safely out of town.

On Jan. 6, 2005, that switch was left in the wrong position.

When the freight train came barreling down the tracks, it was guided directly into the yard where it slammed into a parked train.

Jamie Holland, an attorney representing some of the victims of the Graniteville crash says, this problem is nothing new.

"That problem has been around ever since the term 'asleep at the switch' came out."

In fact, Norfolk Southern had more than 100 train accidents caused by switches in the wrong place in the last three years.

Holland says all the company had to do was put a warning light on the switch so the train could see it as it approached.

Norfolk Southern chose not to spend the money on the less-trafficked Graniteville line.

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