Louisville Zoo fined $37,000, victims of train wreck speak out


by Melanie Kahn


Posted on March 25, 2010 at 2:42 PM

Updated Thursday, Mar 25 at 11:44 PM

Excessive speed, poor mechanics and operator error are what Kentucky’s Agriculture Department says caused the Louisville Zoo train crash that sent 22 people to the hospital last June.

The agency released its findings Thursday and for the first time, some of the victims in that crash are talking publicly.

The zoo will have to pay a fine of $37,000, the maximum fine allowed that was issued along with a 12 page report from inspectors.

But the report only tells part of the story.  WHAS11 talked to some of the victims whose lives changed forever.

"It was very horrific very I’ve had flashbacks numerous times to that day," said Amanda Lankford.

That’s how she describes the train crash that changed her family's life.

She was riding the train with her husband, 2-month2old son, Corbin, and 1-year-old daughter, Michaela.

"We take this turn and it starts to lean and I can see I grab my son and hold him really tight and I can see my daughter getting away from me as we are falling over," she recounted, “the next thing I know we're on the ground."

Lanford said, "she's covered in blood, I’m covered in blood, she has a hole in the side of her face she's screaming mommy, mommy, mommy and there is nothing I can do."

22 people were injured in the crash.

"There are people screaming chaos just it didn’t just topple over oops it fell this was a major major incident."

According to Kentucky's Department of Agriculture report, the train's brakes were insufficient, the conductor didn't follow the braking procedures, and the train was going too fast.

The train's driver told investigators that it was the first time she had ever operated the train on her own and that she was never instructed on how to use the emergency brake.

Attorney Ron Hillertich, who is representing 8 victims, says he isn't surprised by the report's findings.

He said, "I think it shows an obvious lack of training and maintenance on behalf of the city not only does the city's conduct appear to be negligent, it appears to be grossly negligent."

Shortly after the report was released, the Zoo's director John Walczak spoke to the media.

He said, "Our thoughts are still with all of the people who were riding the train that day.  And our hearts go out to them and the train has still not operated since that day."

Zoo officials tell us that they have received feedback from visitors saying they want the train to start running again.

When it was running, the train made about $400,000 a year but right now we're told, the future of the train is still uncertain.