Teen-ager killed in train derailment

4 other people hurt as cars destroy house

January 31, 2000|By Kurt Streeter | Kurt Streeter,STAFF WRITER

Search crews using bloodhounds and fiber-optic cameras found the body last night of a 15-year-old Western Maryland teen-ager buried beneath 20 feet of coal and debris after a freight train jumped its tracks and smashed into his home.

Eddie Lee Rogers was found dead under the rubble after the runaway train crashed into his home about 7: 15 a.m. yesterday.

"The rescuers found Eddie in the living room, underneath a couch," said state police Cpl. David Broadwater. The search ended about 8: 45 p.m.

"What a terrible, terrible tragedy," Broadwater said.

Rogers' mother, stepfather and two siblings, who were also home at the time, survived the crash, which left a pileup of cars near the family's Bloomington home.

CSX Transportation is investigating why the train, heading east from Grafton, W.Va., to Cumberland, left the tracks. Because snow was falling gently, all was quiet in Bloomington moments before the derailment, said Irene Wilson, a town resident who was walking near the house delivering newspapers. .

Suddenly the train leapt from its tracks, sending its cars "all over the place," she said.

"I heard a loud boom, an explosion," Wilson said. "It was the most terrifying thing I ever saw."

With the derailed cars scattered over roughly four miles, the normally placid paper-mill town looked as if a tornado had ripped through it. At least three of the cars careened off a slight embankment and dumped tons of coal, much of it onto the back of the two-story home 10 yards from the tracks.

The spilled coal collapsed the first floor of the house, pushing it about 20 feet from its foundation.

"Basically, the house is gone," state police Sgt. Jay Resh said. "It's almost like it exploded."

Family members who escaped told police that Rogers was in the living room watching television when the train derailed.

Five family members were inside the house at the time of the accident, including Rogers' mother, Libby A. Holstein, 35. She suffered a broken leg and was listed in serious condition last night at Cumberland Memorial Hospital.

Holstein's husband, Eugene F. Liller, 32, initially treated for minor injuries and released, checked into the hospital's emergency room last night, according to nursing coordinator Shelley Miller.

Her 18-year-old daughter, Brandy N. Holstein, and his daughter, 13-year-old Amanda M. Liller, suffered minor injuries. They were treated at a local medical clinic and released, state police said.

"It may take some time to figure out what happened," CSX spokesman Gary Wollenhaupt said.

The train route goes east to Baltimore and west to Grafton, where it splits off, going north as far as Cleveland, Ohio, and south to Huntington, W. Va.

Firefighters on the scene said the train's engine didn't stop until it got to Piedmont, W.Va., about two miles east of the accident.

About 200 people joined a desperate effort to find Rogers. Aside from state police and members of Bloomington's volunteer fire department, about 50 members of the Montgomery County Fire Department's urban search and rescue team were on hand, along with officials from CSX and Columbia Gas Co.

The derailed train damaged a gas line near the tracks. About 100 homes had their gas turned off by Columbia Gas, Resh said.

As temperatures dipped into the 20s and 5 inches of snow fell on the macabre scene, residents who had no heat sought shelter at a nearby middle school and at the Bloomington Fire Department station house.

The station house, with a spread of hot roast beef, mashed potatoes, sodas and coffee, was by chance prepared for an onslaught of people -- it was intended for a Super Bowl party, not an emergency shelter.

Remains of the accident formed a great scar across the town of 400, whose largest employer is the Westvaco paper mill in the adjacent town of Luke.

From a bridge crossing near the destroyed house, rail car after rail car could be seen scattered along the tracks. Some lay on their sides, their contents spilled. Others were collapsed and smashed accordion-style.

It was the second train derailment in eight hours in the region.

Saturday night, a Chicago-bound Amtrak train derailed in southwest Pennsylvania, stranding 139 people overnight in the cars until buses arrived yesterday morning. All the cars remained upright and no one was hurt in the accident in Springfield Township in Fayette County, 44 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

Late yesterday afternoon in Bloomington, in a driving snow, cranes were being erected to provide light for the search in the crushed remnants of the house. Firefighters dangled a white, 8-inch-wide hose into the mounds of coal, attempting to vacuum some of it from the scene.

For most of the day it seemed as if half the town was at the site, searching for Rogers, and the other half was listening to emergency police scanners, hoping for news that he had been found alive, said Jim Lauder, who coached Rogers' junior varsity basketball team at Westmar High School in Lonaconing, Allegany County.

Rogers, a wiry freshman and a great jumper, was regarded as having the potential to be one of the finest schoolboy athletes in the area, Lauder said. At 5-foot-5, he recently made the starting lineup at guard on the junior varsity basketball team.

"All that kid ever seems to do is basketball, he just loves it," Lauder reminisced.

"He's a diligent kid," said the coach, recalling a conversation they had the night before at practice.

"We were talking about the things he needed to work on to take his game to the next level. He looked at me and said, `Coach, you tell me what to work on this summer, and I'll do it.' "

Contributing writer Cindy Stacy, Sun staff writers Gady Epstein and Jamie Smith Hopkins and library researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

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