Zoo's neighbor made first 911 call after train derailment

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WHAS11.com

Posted on June 8, 2009 at 7:53 PM

Updated Thursday, Oct 15 at 3:45 PM

(WHAS11) - The subsequent 911 calls from the June 1, Louisville Zoo train derailment, reveal a neighbor of the zoo was the first person to place an emergency call.

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Dispatch tapes show the effort to find enough emergency vehicles to respond to the crash, which sent 22 people to the hospital.

Three of the injured are from the same family. The 21-month-old girl who was critically injured has now been released from Kosair Children's Hospital. Her two month old brother was discharged several days after the June 1 crash.

Meanwhile, their father, who was pinned under the train is the only victim still in the hospital. He is still listed in satisfactory condition.

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture has asked the Louisville Zoo to move the train that overturned, " . . . into storage under Department supervision within the next two weeks."

"The next step is to get the machine into a controlled environment where we can more thoroughly analyze the components. We will look at the electronics, the mechanicals, the hydraulics; every aspect of the machine," the statement reads.

"Department officials also are continuing to take statements from witnesses to the train accident. The investigation will continue over the next several weeks."

In 911 calls released Monday, zoo neighbor Kenny Machtolff alerts a 911 operator to the crash.

"It's in the zoo. The train just derailed behind our house and people are up there screaming,"Machtolff says on the tape.

"Okay, Kenny. Do you know if anybody's injured?" the operator asks.

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"It sure sounds like it," Machtolff replies.

"I can't get there,"Machtolff continues, ". . . there's a big fence between us and them, but I was up in the back of the yard and I heard it happen . . . people (are) screaming."

Zoo employee Felicia Bailey called about one minute later.

"The train here has collapsed in Gorilla Forest and we have some people hurt," Bailey says.

When asked how many people are hurt, she responds, "I'm not really sure. We have lots of people down there. On the train."

While those 911 calls were coming in, dispatchers were sending out emergency vehicles. At one point, the rush to help overwhelmed the system.

"Okay, I have multiple units trying to talk at the same time," a dispatcher is heard saying on the tape.

When one emergency responder asks how many units are responding, she is told about four were on the way.

But with "about 20" known injured, she says "Okay, go ahead and start four more code one."

"I'll start you with what I can come up with," the dispatcher replies.

The first medical staff on the scene was a zoo visitor, a doctor from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota just happened to be at Gorilla Forest.

Dr. Jared Christensen says he jumped a fence to tend to the injured, and he says the zoo staff's emergency response was quote - "awesome."

". . . a job extremely well done," Christensen says in a letter released by the Louisville Zoo. "You have first rate employees who should be complimented on their efforts . . . I have been in situations where everyone was trained professionally to handle these situations, and your zoo staff was just as good if not better than the pros."

In a letter to zoo members, Zoo Director John Walczak says, "Thirty-six members of the Zoo staff from keepers to administrators to Guest Services personnel were actively involved in triage following the accident. I am grateful to them for their phenomenal response, their compassion, and their composure."

In the letter, Walczak says he responded to many concerns voiced by zoo members.

"To the best of our knowledge, the Zoo has never experienced a train accident like what occurred on June 1 during the four decades of train operation. We are not speculating as to the cause of the accident and are cooperating fully with the investigation being conducted by the state ride inspectors. We are also using this opportunity to look closely at all our safety policies and protocols from animal management to train rides and beyond."

In an interview later with WHAS11's Joe Arnold, Walczak said, "The train is a very popular ride here. It's probably the second most popular thing here at the zoo. We wanted to let people know what the status is all the details that we could about the train."

When asked if the train will resume operations, Walczak said, "The status of the train is pending the investigation right now. It's a very popular ride and we'll see how the investigation reveals itself."

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