FBI runs into dead-ends in probe of train derailment Theories include terrorists from right, angry employee

November 24, 1995|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

HYDER, Ariz. -- William Marks was a prime suspect when he was hooked up to a polygraph machine and interrogated by federal agents in connection with the deadly derailment of an Amtrak train near this desert community.

During hours of questioning by agents who "stared into my eyes the whole time," Mr. Marks was told that someone had implicated him in the sabotage of a trestle that sent the Sunset Limited crashing into a ravine Oct. 9, killing one person and injuring 78.

He also was asked about his gun collection, night-vision rifle scope and whether he knew anyone who hated the federal government. And, they wanted to know, "did you do it?"

With wires attached to his body to monitor his breathing, heartbeat, blood pressure and perspiration, the 33-year-old welder answered, "No."

"I was cleared," Mr. Marks recalled recently, with a sigh of relief, at his home near here.

The polygraph test was another dead-end for FBI investigators in this isolated area 55 miles southwest of Phoenix, where coyotes scratch out an existence along with farmers, ranchers, day-laborers and loners who do not welcome law enforcement intrusion.

Since the October derailment, federal agents have talked to hundreds of residents here -- from cowboys to video store clerks -- in search of clues that could tie a person or group to evidence gathered near where the 12-car train crashed in the middle of the night.

Investigators found a "manifesto" near the crash site signed by "Sons of Gestapo." The one-page note mentioned the government sieges at Waco, Texas, and Ruby Ridge, Idaho -- both rallying cries for far-right extremists.

But there were apparently no witnesses, and even a reward of $100,000 has thus far failed to produce arrests in the murder case.

In a federal effort that is exceeded only by the investigation into the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building in April, FBI agents have interviewed more than 1,000 people and responded to 500 hot line calls.

While authorities are leaning toward a theory that the derailment may have been the work of a disgruntled railroad employee, they have not ruled out the possibility that political terrorists are to blame.

"At this time, there are many potential suspects we are looking at -- not all of whom live in Arizona -- and we haven't eliminated any scenario," said FBI spokesman Jack Callahan. "I can't tell you an arrest is imminent."

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