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Train Accident with Congress Members Onboard. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 31, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] REP. FRENCH HILL (R), ARKANSAS (via telephone): To be two severely injured victims, one that appeared to be stabilized and was able to be picked up by helicopter, and one I don't know the status of.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Congressman French Hill, if you could stay on the line, I am right now going to hand over CNN's coverage of this crash of a train carrying Republican members of Congress, it crashed into this garbage truck. And, at this point in time, it seems like serious injuries at least for the two people. It appears two people who were in that garbage truck and, according to the congressman you just head, thrown from that truck.

We have whole lot more on this.

"INSIDE POLITICS" with Dana Bash starts right now. She'll pick up our special coverage.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.


We're beginning with breaking news.

A train carrying lawmakers to a Republican retreat in West Virginia has collided with a truck. A source tells CNN there are injuries and that members, quote, hit the deck. It's unclear how many lawmakers were on board, but House Speaker Paul Ryan was, but a source tells me that he and other members who are with him are OK.

Let's get straight to CNN's Jeremy Diamond.

Jeremy, what are you hearing?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Hey, Dana. Sorry, we're just dealing with this breaking news here.

BASH: I get it.

DIAMOND: But as far as we know so far, you know, there have been some injuries on this train. But from what we've heard from the members who were on the train, the injuries there appear to be minor. The question is how serious the injury was to, in particular, this driver of this truck that apparently collided with this train. The train was carrying -- we're not clear how many members exactly,

but I'm being told right now that it was the official mode of transportation for Republican members of Congress to get to this Republican retreat in West Virginia. So they left Union Station in Washington, D.C., this morning. And on the way there, it appears Cozet, Virginia, this is where this apparent collision happened. We're seeing some of the pictures coming in from a couple of the members of Congress on the train. You can see there it appears it have collided with some kind of a tractor trailer truck potentially carrying garbage. At least that's what it looks like, where it's strewn on the ground there alongside the tracks. And as of now, we're unclear exactly how many members of Congress. That is the information that we're looking to learn.

But, keep in mind, not just members of Congress, but some of their aides on the train as well, perhaps even some family members as well. We hear that House Speaker Paul Ryan was on the train. He is doing OK according to Republican aides.

But we're still waiting to get some more details specifically on what happened, what caused this crash and exactly what the extent of these injuries are. But as I said, so far all indications are that there were no serious injuries on the train itself. A big question mark, however, about the status of the driver of this tractor trailer truck.

BASH: Yes, absolutely.

Jeremy, thank you for that.

I want to get straight to the scene now. Congressman Lee Zeldin, Republican of New York, is on the train and was at the time of collision. And he joins me by phone now.

Congressman, thank you so much for calling. I just want to say that as soon as we heard about this, you and I were texting. You told me kind of a little bit about the scene. Set the scene for us, first of all, of what exactly happened at the point of collision.

REP. LEE ZELDIN (R), NEW YORK (via telephone): Well, it certainly shocked everybody on the train. It was a pretty hard collision. Really thankful that the train was able to stay on the tracks. Came to a halt within, it looks like, I don't know, maybe about a quarter mile or so it was able to (INAUDIBLE).

The train is stopped here next to the truck. We were on our way to the GOP retreat. So you will have almost all of the House and Senate Republicans on the train. Not everyone, but close to it.

We're -- we are hearing of injuries on the train. You know, I don't want to share any bad information, but I'm hearing that there are some injuries on the train. First thing we're hearing is -- you know, fortunately, amongst the delegation, you have a lot of doctors. So there was a call out for doctors, highest priority right outside of the train. Some people might have been standing at the time of the collision. But I guess, you know, the biggest -- the biggest thing was the train

being able to stay on the tracks. And everybody here is praying for the person they're rendering first aid to right next to the train. And hopefully, I mean, if there are -- whatever other injuries there might be on the train are relatively minor when compared to the scene right now next to it.

BASH: And, obviously, it sounds like you are OK, thank God. The people around you, have you -- have you witnessed anybody who has had an injury at all?

[12:05:00] ZELDIN: Yes, I would say that -- you know, first off, I'm happy that I don't have whiplash. I mean once the adrenaline goes down, there might be some people who, you know, are feeling an ache or a pain that they didn't feel as soon as the accident happened. For everyone watching right now, a lot of people have experienced that. So, you know, adrenaline might be a little bit higher.

There was someone a few rows behind me, I can't say who it was, who -- they were rendering some first aid to right afterwards. You know, and we were one train in front of the cafe car where you might have many people standing up.

There are some kids on the train. Fortunately for everyone, whether you're an older member here or you're just a child, you know, we haven't gotten a full report of how everyone's doing, but I'm sure that there are some injuries on the train as well.

BASH: Congressman, you say kids on the train. Are you talking about children of the members and senators?

ZELDIN: Yes. It's -- so when we do these -- so each year the Republicans in Congress and the Democrats in Congress will do a retreat. So this week will be the GOP retreat, House and Senate. I believe next week is the Democratic retreat. It's something that takes place every year. It's an opportunity for us -- you're here over the course of the next few days, we're scheduled to meet with the president, with the vice president, with different cabinet members.

BASH: Right.

ZELDIN: The purpose of, you know, the retreat, we'll talk, you know, policy, but they also use the opportunity for -- you know, members might bring their spouse. They might bring their kids. And there will be a spouse program and there will be a children's program, which is important for family members to, you know, be able to have that kind of support system with each other because we do spend a lot of time in Washington.

BASH: Sure. Absolutely.

Well, congressman, hopefully all of those children, especially, are OK. I also want to say thank you for calling in. Thank you for sending some of the photos that we're sharing with our viewers right now. I appreciate it. Maybe we'll get back to you later in the hour. I want to bring in one of Congressman Zeldin's colleagues, Tom Cole,

who is also still on the train that collided with the truck in the last hour or so.

Congressman Cole, thank you so much for calling in.

REP. TOM COLE (R), OKLAHOMA: Absolutely.

BASH: Describe the scene as you see it.

COLE: Well, it's -- I'm sitting right -- looking at the truck now. It's horrific. The -- it's a large, you know, truck/trailer combination. The trailer's been knocked off the truck. The truck is smashed up, but sort of semi-upright. The trailer is, you know, pretty close to demolished. You've got trash everywhere. It was -- it's a pretty stunning scene. Obviously it looks like we've a fatality with one of the drivers on the truck or one of the operators. Another serious injury that left. So it's a pretty stunning scene. Totally unexpected.

BASH: I just want to just go back to what you said. You said that there is a clear fatality? Can you be more descriptive and specific?

COLE: Yes, I think so. Certainly somebody was taken off the -- the -- you know, off the site with a tarp over them. So, you know, our assumption is there was a fatality, to be clear.

But it was pretty amazing. The first responders were really the member doctors who were demanding to get off the train. Security was concerned because it looked like there might be gas leakage and they were concerned there could be an explosion. There wasn't, as it turned out. But, you had -- you had, fortunately, a lot of doctors that are members in both chambers. So you had like Brad Wenstrup and Michael Burgess from Texas, Roger Marshall from Kansas, Senator Cassidy, Bill Cassidy, from Louisiana.

BASH: And they're all running out to try to help the injured?

COLE: Oh, yes, they were all going -- they actually were the first people on the scene as far as I could tell. I'm literally in the last car. And that's -- you know, which is stopped immediately opposite where the accident is. So they were -- yes, they were busy trying to get out. And they managed to get out on their own. And they were the first ones rendering assistance.

Then you pretty quickly had, you know, emergency first responders, paramedics, a lot of fire vehicles and ambulances here now. So -- but, yes, they were administering CPR to -- you know, to the folks that had been hurt in the crash.

BASH: I want to bring in one of your former House colleagues, now senator, Jeff Flake. But if you don't mind, Congressman Cole, stay with us while I bring in your colleague.

Senator Flake, first of all, thank you so much for calling in.


BASH: I was just with you last night in the rotunda. Obviously such a different scene. And all I thought of when I heard that you were on the phone was that obviously a very difficult kind of tragedy, but the same kind of scene with -- that you're witnessing now with your colleagues, who are doctors, racing to help people who are injured. The same kind of scene that -- that we saw when you were on the baseball field.

[12:10:08] FLAKE: Yes, well, yes. Brad Wenstrup and we were just -- just with each other as we're (INAUDIBLE) carrying the -- one of the injured to the ambulance, we're -- we've been through this before. As we're -- Brad's cutting away at the coat of the man that's -- trying to keep him alive. It was all too similar.

BASH: Can you just be more specific in what you just described, what happened. You said you were carrying somebody away? Who were you carrying away?

FLAKE: Well, we -- I -- I was on the train near the front. Obviously we heard the -- felt the impact. It was loud and it was harsh. It threw everybody kind of up in their seats. And we knew we'd hit something.

And then I -- I was near the window. I looked out and saw the truck. And it had just been smashed. The garbage truck -- the back portion had been separated from the cab.

And then I worked my way back about 10 cars, so I was parallel to the accident and then got off. I thought they probably needed people to carry people to ambulances. And so I got over there and Senator Cassidy was already there. And Brad was already there working on him with a few paramedics. And we were just happy to secure him on the stretcher and cut away some of the clothing while they worked on him. He was pretty bad off. I hope he survives.

BASH: And just to be clear --

FLAKE: There was another just a few feet away who was deceased. They worked on him for quite a while, but couldn't revive him.

Another person I think who was in the cab --

BASH: Do you -- do you know -- I'm sorry, can we just -- if I may, senator --

FLAKE: The two that were ejected may have been on the back of the garbage truck. We just don't know. But one person wasn't as seriously injured. And I believe they were able to walk to the ambulance. But the other two were very badly hurt and one deceased.

BASH: Senator, I just want to make clear, the person who you're saying was killed, you believe, was on the truck, not the train.

FLAKE: I'm not -- not sure if the person was in the cab. You know, usually you have a couple of people working the back of the garbage truck. And they weren't in the cab. They were either ejected from the cab or ejected from the back of the truck. I would assume, but I don't know, that they were on the back of the truck.

BASH: I see. And tell me, senator, about -- first of all, it sounds like, thank God, you are OK. Tell me about the people who were around you at the point of impact and how they're doing physically.

FLAKE: Yes, I'm not sure if anybody is seriously hurt on the train. I doubt anybody is seriously hurt, but certainly some bumped heads and bruises. My wife was sitting next to me. She was thrown pretty hard against the seat, but -- and she's OK. So I don't know, though. I've been off the train most of the time.


Senator, stand by.

I want to read to you and to our viewers what we're hearing. This is according to our Rene Marsh getting a statement from the Amtrak spokesperson, Beth Toll (ph), who says the following.

An Amtrak train came into contact with a vehicle that was on the tracks at 11:20 a.m. Eastern in -- I don't know if I'm going to pronounce this right, correct me in the control room if I don't -- Crozet, Virginia. There are no reported injuries to passengers or crew members. Local law enforcement is investigating the incident, and crews are inspecting equipment for damage. The train originated in Washington, D.C. Updates will be provided as new information becomes available.

So here you hear -- you see, senator and Congressman Cole, if you're still with us, that with regard to the train, no reported injuries to passengers or crew members. So it certainly sounds -- Congressman Cole, I'll go back to you, that what you are describing and what Senator Flake is describing as an apparent fatality, in addition to some severe injuries that you are witnessing, and that the doctors, who are members of Congress, are tending to came from the people in the truck.

COLE: And that's correct. I mean the people that were injured are now gone, and as is the fatality that the senator referred to. So you've got people around, inspecting things, and I suppose making decisions.

[12:15:06] But, yes, it was just as Jeff described it. It was, you know, quite a jolt. And -- but you -- you -- again, you might have some knocked heads or there were a couple of people knocked down that happened to be in the aisle, but nobody seriously hurt on the train. The injuries, the fatalities, were all associated with the garbage vehicle.

BASH: And just so you know and what our viewers know, that we're looking at some live video, but also to the left, that's still photo a congressman tweeted, the front of the Amtrak train. If we can put that back up.

Oh, now we have the live pictures of where you're sitting, Congressman Cole. We see the outside of the train. And, boy, does that look like -- it looks like a nightmare. An absolute nightmare.

COLE: No, I --

BASH: I should -- I should tell you, and I don't know if you've heard this. While we're talking, I got a text from an aide, a House GOP aide, who's on the train, who said buses are coming to pick you all up.

COLE: I assumed that's what they'd have to do. I mean I don't know how you would move this vehicle from an accident site like this. It's -- you know, I'm sure there's an investigation. You couldn't move the crew. So we all suspected we would be here for some time. But, obviously, we're safe and we're fortunate. And people who are in (INAUDIBLE) are neither. And it's just a real tragedy for them and their families.

BASH: Absolutely. And as we're starting to get a live picture -- well, a nice man is blocking what I was going to show you, but if and when he moves, you'll see there's a little bit of a -- of an -- there's a white "x," there you see, which looks like a train crossing, which anybody who has been in their car and comes up to train tracks -- there you see -- knows what that means. And that means a train's coming. So the obvious question that everybody is going to be asking, and I know our team here, Rene Marsh especially, is looking into whether or not there was some -- something that didn't work, some malfunction with what is supposed to happen when a car or a truck or a garbage truck comes up to a track and a train is coming.

COLE: Yes. Well, and, again, I can't speak to that. I can literally see the cross. I'm just -- I'm not -- because I'm in the last car.

BASH: Sure.

COLE: I can just look out the window and see it immediately to my left. But it -- you know, clearly, obviously, there's somebody that didn't follow protocol or you had a vehicle that had stalled out and was on the track. You just don't know at this point. But just, wow, what a tragedy.

BASH: It sure is.

And can you just describe the scene now? I mean, as I mentioned, it sounds like buses are coming to pick you up. I mean you're sitting on the train. I would imagine you've got your colleagues around, your colleagues' families around, your aides around.

COLE: Yes.

BASH: What's the feeling on that train right now?

COLE: Oh, you know, people are obviously a little bit -- a little shook up by it. We're happy that people are safe here and people are checking up and down, making sure really over and over that everybody's OK.

But, you know, it's just carnage in front of us in terms of the degree of destruction to the truck and the trailer and trash scattered every place. Again, the people that were injured and killed have been removed. There's quite a, you know, a plethora -- quite a number of now firefighters and first responders here on ground. And -- but it's -- you know, it's going to take a while just to clean up the mess, quite frankly, let alone piece together exactly what happened.

BASH: But, congressman, just one other question. And maybe it's too soon to know the answer to this. But is it your understanding that when the buses come, they'll take you back to Washington, that this retreat will be canceled?

COLE: I don't know. I have not been informed either way about that. So, as a matter of fact, I didn't know -- I assumed buses were on the way but didn't know until you actually told me that. So I don't know whether the decision is made to, you know, continue with the event that was planned.

BASH: Understood.

COLE: Obviously this casts quite a pall over everything. But, you know, we did have the president coming tomorrow. I think the vice president tonight. Quite a few cabinet members. It's -- it is one of your earlier people, I think Congressman Zeldin mentioned it's a very normal function. A pretty important sort of kickoff for the legislative year for us. But, you know, this is certainly something that nobody's ever dealt with that I'm aware of in one of these retreats, or certainly not in my time in Congress. So, you know, what decision will be made about it going forward, I just don't know.

BASH: Yes, I would imagine that this is -- that this is certainly a unique and tragic event that you are all experiencing together.

The House speaker is on the train. I know you said you're in the back in the last car. I was told by an aide that he's OK. Have you seen him? Is he kind of going around --

[12:20:08] COLE: No, I've not -- no, I've -- I saw him earlier today, but I've not seen him since the accident. And -- but I don't think anybody on the train's in any serious kind of jeopardy. I mean you might have bumped a knee or -- (INAUDIBLE) and I happened to be standing next to Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions and was chatting with him. So I was hanging on the overhead, you know, bins that are for luggage and things like that, otherwise I would have lost my feet.

And Rep. Fleischmann was right behind me walking, from Tennessee, and he was knocked down. So I'm sure that happened up and down the train.

But, again, there's no reports of any serious injuries on the train. The tragedy is all on the ground and all with the drivers and the operators of the trash vehicle. It just -- it just breaks your heart. I mean just normal people out working hard and doing a tough job, and I'm sure this is the last thing they ever thought would happen to them as well.

BASH: Absolutely. No question about it. Congressman, while you wait for your buses, if you can indulge us and

stay on the line, I would appreciate it.

I just want to go over to our congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty, who has a new statement from the Capitol Police.


SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Dana. The Capitol Police says that they are indeed on the scene. And as you know from covering Capitol Hill, typically when you have members of Congress and the leadership, typically they have some sort of detail with them from Capitol Police. SO no surprise that they were on the scene. Likely that they were on the train themselves.

But they do say in a statement provided to CNN that congressional officials, including the United States Capitol Police, are on the scene and are working closely with partner law enforcement agencies in response to the incident.

And we are, of course, as you've been noting, hearing stories and seeing those pictures tweeted out by members and, of course, right now you see the live picture of the scene of just how devastating that was.

And it certainly should be again noted that this is an annual retreat that members of Congress go to. And, in many cases, they bring their spouses, they bring their children. So certainly this Amtrak train that was chartered to go from Washington, D.C., this morning over to Sulfur Springs, West Virginia, was carrying many members' families on there as well.

And one Republican aide really confirming what we've been reporting for a while, that there were some minor injuries and some bruises among those people on the train, but not serious injuries. Of course, a lot of focus being on the status of those two people in that garbage truck that hit that train.

BASH: Sunlen, thank you so much for that reporting. Appreciate it.

Congressman Cole, I'm going to bring you back in.

While Sunlen was just giving that report, I was obviously listening to her but texting with some other sources who are on the train who was saying that Albemarle County sheriffs are on the train checking to make sure that folks are OK. And just a reminder to me that a lot of members' children are on this train. It's something that Congressman Zeldin told us at the top of the hour.

But, you know, Congressman Cole, you know, again, this is -- this is typically annually one of those events where everybody goes, they bring their families, they bring their spouses, who almost -- many of whom never -- almost never come to Washington. You know, they take their suits off, they wear their sweaters and jeans. And so that's the atmospheric in which this tragedy happened. COLE: That's correct. I mean, again, the -- and at least as far as I

could tell, there was no sudden hitting of the brakes or anything. There was just a jolt. I mean you didn't have any anticipation that this was getting ready to happen. Although they clearly got it stopped pretty fast. And, you know, again, I don't have a good sense of how fast we were going, but I don't think it was all that -- I mean, if I were guessing, it would be like 30, 40 miles an hour. Of course, you're going through a community. It wasn't racing along.

But, yes, it was -- it was quite unexpected and jarring. And -- but the reaction of -- I mean people were calm and immediately looking out for people around them. As you said, we had security on the train. They were immediately helpful. We had doctors on the train who immediately got off to render assistance to people that, you know, deadly peril on the ground. So very proud of those members who did that.

And, again, the local authorities got here right away. You know, they -- so -- and they have indeed, you know, gone through the train themselves on top of our own security and just members checking on their families and their fellows and made sure everything was OK in the vehicle.

So the professional response have been very, very good, both by the Capitol Police, as always, and by the members here that, you know, again, are physicians and want to help people in these situations (INAUDIBLE) local law enforcement. It's just an awful tragedy to have happened.

And it does rattle people. And I'm fortunate I don't have my children or spouse with me, but those that do, you know, that's not exactly what you would like them to have to experience or see. So I suppose there might be some emotional, you know --

BASH: Of course.

COLE: Trauma (INAUDIBLE) for some of them. So that's pretty tough on those folks.

BASH: Congressman, I'm going to ask you to stand by one more time.

Our viewers are looking at the front of the train. Video of the front of the train. And we have an affiliate, WVIR, who is on the scene. And let's just dip into their coverage for a moment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What happened here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that's right, Matt.

So right now a nurse on scene has told me that there's been at least one fatality and one critical injury. And she believes that both of these two people were on the trash truck itself. I do not know about any injuries on the train so far at this point. I will continue to ask those questions.

Police have been very, very tough. They've not wanted to talk about anything right now. So they just keep kind of pushing us back. And they're going to come eventually, hopefully, talk to us and give us a full rundown of what's going on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course one of the big things with this investigation is, it does now involve a lot of different authorities. Local authorities, Albemarle County Police. We know a spokesperson is on the way to the scene here and we do expect update from Albemarle County Police at some point.

But we're also seeing a lot of federal authorities out here because, as we said, this is members of Congress. We believe Capitol Police out here too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that's right. I believe I've seen a number of members of Capitol Police out here heavily armed with their vests on and their long guns and they've been walking up and down the train, I guess protecting, making sure no one who isn't supposed to be on that train is getting on there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we did see, just a few minutes ago, Pegasus, that's UVA's helicopter, the airlift. I believe a patient from here. We, again, are hearing reports from a nurse on the scene originally saying one person died in this. And we did see this other person air lifted, we assume to UVA.

What else have you seen out here? So you did get here very soon after this accident happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I got here before even a number of the first responders that are all the way down the street down there. I have just seen tons and tons of people running up to this scene, trying to help in any way that they can. Police, medical personnel, firefighters. Everyone is out here kind of working together, doing whatever they can to help anyone who is injured and suffering.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course one of the big things that we've seen in this accident here is that because there were so many members of Congress and their staff on board this train, they started tweeting right away about the accident as soon as it happened. We have heard that our local congressman, Congressman Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from the sixth district representing the Shenandoah Valley, he was not on the train. Congressman Goodlatte has tweeted that he wishes everyone prayers for anyone who was on board the train, any of his colleagues, as well as anyone in that trash truck there who may have been injured or killed in this.

We also know that Fifth District Congressman Republican Tom Garrett, who represents central Virginia, Tom Garrett, was not on this train either. He just tweeted a few moments ago that he will be heading down to the Green Briar, but was not on board the train.

Once again, our photographer, Lee, if we could just zoom into the scene here so you can see that trash truck right on this crossing. You can see the railroad crossing sign, that white "x" up there. That is where Lane Town Road and I believe it's Merry Mart Farm, that's where they cross these tracks here. I don't believe it's a signalized intersection there. They're just the flashing lights and the warning of a crossing that's coming up. But you can see that trash truck was knocked completely off into the dirt here. All the trash strewn about here.

Authorities again continue to go through. Lee, if we could pan over to the left here you can see, those are Albemarle County Police that are up on the rail yard here. They're walking through. We've seen police and crews going through this train, making sure that no one else is on board still while they make sure everyone gets out.

There are a lot of ambulances. As we were coming in here, maybe ten minutes ago or so, we saw even more ambulances rushing to the scene here to make sure that everyone who does need medical treatment is taken care of.

But, once again, we are here at Lane Town Road. This is just west of Crozet.

And, Lee, if we can pan up here to the helicopter that's circling above. Now, from the ground, I can't tell what kind of helicopter it is. It looks to be a Virginia State Police helicopter or maybe a federal authorities helicopter of some sort. It is not an air lift.

[12:29:56] BASH: OK, you've been listening to our local affiliate there, WVIR. And just for anybody who's just tuning in, what you're looking at is a live picture of a train that was chartered by House and Senate Republicans to take them from Washington, D.C., Union Station, to West Virginia.