EASTON, Kan. — One Leavenworth County, Kansas town is breathing a sigh of relief.
Eight of the passengers involved in Monday’s Amtrak train derailment in central Missouri are from Easton, Kansas, population 247.
Members of the FLBA club at Pleasant Ridge High School were headed for a school-related event in Chicago, having boarded the train at Kansas City’s Union Station Monday morning around 11:50 a.m.
Jason Drinkard, a history teacher at the high school, was, along with his wife, accompanying six students to Chicago. They’d been on the eastbound train for about three hours when the train collided with a large dump truck near Mendon, Missouri.
Investigators said that four people died, including the driver of the dump truck. Three of the victims were passengers on the train. Two of those victims died at the site and one died later at a hospital.
“All of a sudden, out of nowhere was this huge thud. It just shook the whole train,” Drinkard said.
Drinkard said it was a horrific sight seeing the train tip over, and the fall caused passengers to be thrown violently across the train car. Drinkard said passengers in other cars panicked, but despite obvious injuries, everyone in his car remained calm.
Drinkard said he isn’t sure what compelled him to pack a first aid kit that morning, but it came in handy, and being involved in a crash that, as of Tuesday, killed four people is something he’ll never forget.
“I’m trying to stand up on what used to be the floor, but I’m also trying to stand up and not stand on people. People have been thrown from the left side underneath the seats where the luggage rack used to be,” Drinkard recalled on Tuesday. “I heard that people had died in (the next car). Knowing we were that close — there’s no way. It had to be God that pulled us through that.”
People in Easton will buzz about this situation for a long time to come. Carlee McEvoy, who attended Pleasant Ridge High School with those six students, said people around town were worried sick.
“A couple of them have concussions, which are a given. Someone has a shoulder strain. As I know of, and I’ve talked to all of them, they’re doing good given the circumstances,” McEvoy said.
Drinkard said the most memorable thing about the wreck might be the smell. He’ll never forget the stench of twisted metal and hydraulic fluid — which concerned survivors that the train might explode. Thankfully, he and his students survived.
The NTSB’s investigation into the crash is ongoing.