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Highway Accident Report – Highway-Railroad Grade Crossing Collision in Midland, Texas, November 15, 2012, Chairman's Opening Remarks
Deborah A. P. Hersman

Good morning. Welcome to the Boardroom of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am Debbie Hersman, and it is my privilege to serve as the Chairman of the NTSB. Joining me are my fellow Board members: Vice Chairman Chris Hart, Member Robert Sumwalt, Member Mark Rosekind, and Member Earl Weener. Let me recognize Member Rosekind for his outstanding service as the spokesperson for the NTSB's on-scene investigative activities.

Today, we meet in open session, as required by the Government in Sunshine Act, to consider an accident in which a parade float carrying U.S. veterans and their spouses was struck by a freight train at a highway-railroad grade crossing in Midland, Texas. Tragically, four veterans were killed, and more than eleven others were injured, many of them seriously.

On behalf of my fellow Board members and the entire NTSB staff, I offer our deepest condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of the four veterans who lost their lives in this accident. We know that nothing can replace the loss of your loved ones; and for others, some suffering life-altering injuries, your lives will never be the same. But our hope is that the findings and recommendations we issue today will help prevent similar occurrences in the future.

In reviewing the circumstances of this accident, I noted the photograph of the heavily damaged parade float - and the banner hanging from the front bumper that read, “Heroes on Board.” While most us here at the NTSB never had the honor of meeting these servicemen, following the accident we read some of the stories describing their lives. They were loving and well-loved husbands and fathers. And, they were proud members of the military who were all honored for their service. These men sacrificed greatly for our country. And while they survived gunshots, explosions and grenade attacks while serving overseas, each had sustained life-altering or disabling injuries.

Last week, Don Karol, our Director of the Office of Highway Safety, visited Midland, Texas. He saw firsthand how the community is dedicated to keeping alive the memory of these heroes and remembering what happened on November 15, 2012. Our role at the NTSB is to look closely at the circumstances that led to this accident. By understanding the causes, we can help other communities make sure something like this never happens again.

Today, we will hear details about the planning and carry-out of the parade that occurred. While much of the discussion will focus on safety precautions that were not implemented by the parade organizer or the city of Midland, our purpose is not to assign blame. We are here to find answers to the question: How can safety be improved at parades and other special events, not just in Midland, but in counties and cities across the nation?

Parade accidents, while relatively rare, can occur anywhere. To supplement our investigation of the Midland accident, staff looked at three other parade accidents that occurred during the past six months.

The first occurred in May of this year and involved an 87 year-old man who lost control of his vehicle while participating in a parade in Damascus, Virginia. Two people were seriously injured, and some 60 others suffered minor injuries.

The other two accidents occurred on the Fourth of July. During a parade in Bangor, Maine, an antique fire truck experienced brake problems while traveling downhill and collided with a farm tractor that was traveling ahead. The tractor operator was struck and killed by the fire truck. And, in Edmond, Oklahoma, a child who either fell or jumped off of a trailer that was traveling in the parade, was run over and killed. Without a doubt, there are lessons in all of these unfortunate events, and I look forward to hearing what our team has learned.

Dr. Mayer, will you please introduce the staff.