MIDLAND, Texas - Four war veterans died when a train collided with their parade float Thursday; also on board, a Wisconsinite who narrowly escaped the crash.
It happened in Midland, Texas, located in the western part of the state about two hours south of Lubbock.
During the celebration for veterans, Travis Reichert was the first to see the train. He told about two dozen other service members and their wives aboard the float to jump.
What happened next, Reichert said looked like a war zone.
Reichert served several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Diagnosed with a brain injury, Reichert didn't know any of the other wounded warriors in Texas for an outdoors trip.
A picture captures Reichert and his wife in the last two seats.
The group stopped on the tracks when the gate came down and the flatbed pulling the float got stuck between two other trucks.
"I stood up and looked and I saw the train right there and so, I yelled for everyone to jump off the trailer," explained Reichert, whose wife did so right when trailer and train collided.
"Me and my wife were stuck in between the arm that goes down that stops traffic and I just held her tight," said Reichert.
Sixteen people were hurt; four veterans died. Combined they have 75 years of service, three Purple Hearts and leave behind eight children.
"It was like we were back in war again, except it was our loved ones now and not our friends," said Reichert, who credits the group's experience overseas for saving more lives than were lost.
"Service members were already doing CPR, one guy took his shirt off and was using it as a tourniquet," explained Reichert.
NTSB investigators confirmed 10 previous accidents at the crossing in the past 15 years, but none have been fatal. Union Pacific, which owns the train, preliminarily reported the train's crossing lights and horns were working and the camera it's equipped with could help the NTSB determine the cause of the wreck.
"It's sad what happened to our service members and their spouses, but it was an accident, a terrible accident," said Reichert, who plans to fly home to Madison with his wife Saturday.
The crew members aboard the train weren't hurt, but are getting grief counseling.
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