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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Train’s Brakes Fail; Sabotage Is Suspected

Associated Press

Sabotage was suspected Thursday in the wreck of a runaway freight train that slammed into a railyard building, hurling steel wreckage just short of an employee lunchroom and injuring nine men.

“There appears to have been some tampering with the train. As a result we have called in the FBI,” said Dick Russack, a spokesman for Burlington Northern Santa Fe in Illinois.

Russack said the brakes clearly failed, but he would not elaborate on why sabotage was suspected.

FBI investigators were on the scene. Special Agent Fred Tremter said Thursday evening that the bureau had not determined yet whether any sabotage occurred.

The train, hauling lumber, grain and other cargo, left a Burlington Northern yard in Minneapolis on Wednesday night, bound for Galesburg, Ill.

It descended a hill into a Canadian Pacific Railroad yard in St. Paul, speeding out of control at 40 mph to 50 mph. It crashed into locomotives parked outside a one-story office and flattened most of the building.

The wreckage stopped 5 feet from the lunchroom, said Mike Johnson, a freight car inspector for Canadian Pacific. He said he was sure people would have been killed if the parked locomotives had not slowed the train.

One rail worker, Richard Vitek, was pinned for more than two hours beneath a car holding 15 tons of grain. Rescuers working in below-zero wind chills freed him after digging into the frozen ground to jack up the car. He was hospitalized later in fair condition - with nothing more than cuts and bruises.

Rail worker Warren Lear, speaking from his hospital bed, said he and his colleagues were discussing a college basketball game when they heard about a runaway train on a radio. Then came the rumble like “a huge thunder.”

“Everyone ran out,” Johnson said. “I didn’t know what way to go.”

So he just went down and covered his head.

“When I fell, I thought the train was going to run over me,” Lear said. “The only thing I can explain is God was with us. I don’t know how. It was a miracle.”

Lear’s foot got pinned between a knocked-down wall and the floor.

“All I remember is hitting the floor and I couldn’t move my foot. Then I smelled diesel fuel,” Lear said. It took about an hour for rescuers to free Lear’s foot, but he lost his big toe and part of another toe.