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Sabotage suspected in 'terrorist' derailment

Amtrak: It won't happen again

October 10, 1995
Web posted at: 10:50 a.m. EDT

From Reporter Jim Hill and wire reports

train wreck PALO VERDE, Arizona (CNN) -- The day after a deadly derailment, Amtrak hopes to clear the Sunset Limited from sabotaged tracks in the Arizona desert. Federal authorities Tuesday continued to look for clues in the wreck, which killed an Amtrak crew member. In Washington, Amtrak President Thomas Downs told CNN that with "a heightened level of security around the country" and newer track-monitoring technology in use elsewhere, the chance of such an incident happening again is "slim to none." (145K AIFF sound or 145K WAV sound)

Sleeping car attendant Mitchell Bates, 41, a 20-year Amtrak employee, was killed in the crash early Monday morning. Four cars plunged off a 30-foot trestle when the 12-car passenger train derailed. Of the 78 people injured, 25 remained hospitalized Tuesday, seven of them in critical condition, Downs said. There were 248 passengers and 20 crew members on board.

Notes found near the wreckage of the train led law enforcement authorities to believe domestic terrorism is involved, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said.

Amtrak officials said they knew nothing of any notes but law enforcement sources involved in the investigation told CNN there were two notes, one on each side of the tracks. Both were signed "Sons of the Gestapo," the sources said. They said one of the notes mentioned the April 1993 federal siege near Waco, Texas, that ended in a fire in which more than 80 members of the Branch Davidian sect died, as well as the shootout in Ruby Ridge in which FBI agents shot and killed the wife and a son of illegal gun maker Randy Weaver in August 1992.

The notes were addressed to the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), the FBI, state police and the sheriff's office, the sources said. The ATF was the agency involved in the Weaver arrest and the initial Waco raid that led to the long siege and final FBI assault.

Klanwatch, an organization that tracks hate groups as part of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, has never heard of "Sons of Gestapo," said Joe Roy, Klanwatch director. He said it could be some kind of local group, or "this could be Fred the farmer who's mad at Amtrak for cutting across his land. ... It very well could be some disgruntled individual who's trying to blame it on the militias."

At the White House, President Clinton said Tuesday he is "profoundly outraged" by the sabotage. He said he is determined to keep the American people safe and promised the government will find those responsible and punish them "regardless of their motive."

Downs said sabotage was indicated by the removal of a rail joint bar supporting a section of the track leading to the trestle over the 30-foot ravine. The movement of the rail should have triggered an alarm, but the saboteur wired the track in a such a way that the signal remained green and the crew had no warning of any problem ahead, the Amtrak president said.

track one track two track three

At FBI headquarters in Washington, spokesman Paul Bresson told CNN it was "too early to tell what caused this." Asked if it could be domestic terrorism, Bresson said, "We wouldn't rule it out, but it's too early to say. We're still in the process of gathering information."

The train derailed about 1:30 a.m. about 60 miles southwest of Phoenix. Officials estimated it was traveling about 50 mph when it hit the loosened rail.

The Sunset Limited normally travels between Miami, Florida, and Los Angeles but because of Hurricane Opal this particular run left from New Orleans on Saturday. Passengers who had planned to board east of New Orleans were bused there instead.


Numbers for those seeking or have information on the Amtrak derailment:

Amtrak has established a line for people looking for relatives they believe were on the train: (800) 523-9101

The Justice Department has a telephone hot line for people who have information regarding the derailment: (606) 650- 3235



Statement from Amtrak President

(243K AIFF sound or 243K WAV sound)


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Copyright © 1995 Cable News Network Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. AP contributed to this report.