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JACKSON, Miss. -- The site of a train-tour bus crash that killed four people in Mississippi appears to have a troubling history of accidents, including two this year, a federal investigator said Wednesday.
National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt said the crossing in Biloxi has a hump that has caused tractor-trailers to bottom out in the past, and the federal agency is looking into whether the steep grade played a role in the crash Tuesday. The crossing has had 17 accidents involving vehicles and trains since 1976.
On Tuesday, a charter bus carrying dozens of tourists to Mississippi casinos became stuck on the railroad tracks for about five minutes before a freight train barreled into it, sending frantic passengers in all directions, witnesses said. About 40 people were hurt, including seven critically.
The cause of the crash is under investigation. Sumwalt said the agency's team would look into how long the bus was stuck, the history of the motor coach company and its driver, and whether or not the train's two-man crew could have done anything differently.
Some of the tourists from Texas were getting off the bus as the driver tried to move it, and at least one person was shoved underneath when the train hit, said Mark Robinson, a Biloxi native who saw the crash.
Body parts were "thrown everywhere," Robinson told WLOX-TV.
Sumwalt said the train was traveling 26 mph when the crew put it into an emergency stop about 510 feet from the bus. The train had slowed to 19 mph by the time of the crash and pushed the motor coach about 200 feet down the tracks before it came to a stop with the mangled bus still straddling the tracks. Authorities said it took more than an hour to get everyone aboard the bus out of the wreckage. Two people had to be removed with metal-cutting equipment.
Mayor Andrew Gilich said several CSX railroad crossings through the city are dangerous, including the one where the accident happened Tuesday. He attended the NTSB news conference and said he had personally known people who had died at the crossing. He stressed that changes need to be made to prevent more accidents.
The crossing has a sign warning drivers that it has a low-ground clearance, as well as a bell, lights and crossing arms.
In January, a Pepsi delivery driver's tractor-trailer became struck at the same crossing, the city said in a statement at the time. The driver bailed out and ran down the road to warn the engineer of an approaching freight train, but the train still plowed into the stranded semi and pushed it about 70 to 80 feet before stopping. No one was hurt.
Police Chief John Miller said the Echo Transportation bus had come from Austin, Texas, carrying passengers to one of Biloxi's eight casinos.
The names of the dead were not immediately released but a Texas school district confirmed that two former administrators with the district were killed. Ken and Peggy Hoffman were retired from the Lockhart school district south of Austin, according to Christina Courson, a district spokeswoman.
Ken Hoffman worked for the district for decades and had served as an assistant superintendent. His wife was an elementary school principal, the spokeswoman said. The couple has a daughter and three grandchildren who now teach in the district.