TODAY   |  November 19, 2012

Injured veteran: ‘I heard somebody yelling train’

Sgt. First Class Richard Sanchez, one of the veterans injured in the Midland, Texas train crash that killed four describes how he saved his wife. The NTSB has pieced together a timeline for the crash, and found that the float carrying them started crossing the tracks after warning bells began to sound. NBC’s Janet Shamlian reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> new details on a deadly accident between a train and a parade float in texas. in a moment we'll talk to a couple who was on that float, but first nbc's janet shamiam is in mid-land with more on that.

>> reporter: the intersections washing bells and lights were flashinging and sounding as the parade float passed over the tracks. the agency hasn't identified the driver publicly, but says it's planning tonight view him today and acknowledges that he did submit a blood sample just after the accident. meanwhile, the enormity of this tragedy continues to way here in midland. over the weekend lines out the door at blood banks and donations have been flowing n.investigators say the flatbed truck carrying the veterans started crossing the railroad tracks even though warning bells and lights were sounding and flashing. with information from the train's black box and trid from the train and a sheriff's escort car, the ntsb pieced together a time line . 24 seconds before impact, dozens of lights and two tractor trailers cleared the tracks. 13 seconds before, the crossing gates start to come down. 12 seconds before the crash the secretary tractor trailer starts across the tracks. nine seconds before, the engineer sounds the train's horn, and just five seconds before impact the engineer slams on the emergency brake but it was too late. the train slams into the trailer. first responders say by the time they arrive the veterans themselves were already helping each other.

>> for many of them their training kicked in, and as soon as they jumped off that trailer, they were able to help tie tourniquets and stop blooding vessels. i couldn't have done it without their help them.

>> reporter: among them a special operations soldier from louisiana. he was on the first float and raced back to help. his wife says they were trained for tragedy. shane ladner was wounded twice in iraq. he and his wife seen in this video arriving in midland. both injured, doctors had to amp day one of meg's legs. this doctor was in charge of the emergency room as the injured came in. he said even though he's trained to put his emotions aside it was tough.

>> i found a veteran in the back room that was still there, he and his wife, and they had lost everything they had in the wreck. they didn't have identification. they didn't have any money or funding, and he was a paralyzed veteran, called the pharmacy and told him i would pay for their medications and take care of them. it was an honor to be -- to be there and to help the vets.

>> reporter: on tuesday investigators will conduct a re-enactment on the train tracks to determine what the train engineer could see. meanwhile, five people who survived this accident are still in the hospital and four families are planning funerals and memorials for veterans who survived battle overseas only to lose their lives here on a city street. matt, back to you.

>> janet shamiam in midland for us, thank you very much.

>>> sergeant first class richard sanchez was pulled from the parade float after pushing his wife to safety. they are here with their attorney. good morning to all of you.

>> good morning.

>> sergeant, how are you doing?

>> good.

>> yeah. what's the extent of your injuries?

>> my back was broken down by the l-5 and just kind of waiting to see. we can't get the swelling down around the spinal cord so i can try and walk again.

>> how much do you remember, sergeant, of the impact or the seconds immediately preceding the impact?

>> well, it all kind of happened at once, and there's not really any delay in time, but i remember it all from the first time i heard somebody yelling train to the arm coming down on my wife and i, and then me pushing her and me getting thrown. i remember it. just it all seems to go by extremely fast.

>> you say somebody yelling train. so people on that float were trying to warn the driver of that truck, that there was real danger.

>> right. somebody behind us, the arms that were coming down, my wife and i were kind of almost past the train tracks so we were already looking off to start waving to the next group of little kids, but one of the ladies behind up, up towards behind us towards the rear yelled train and i looked up and saw the arms, the crossing arms come down, caught them kind of in the front of my chest and pushed her away.

>> heather, your husband did push you out of the way and got you off there, in effect possibly saving your life. what do you remember from your vantage point?

>> i remember the guard coming down. i remember richard yelling at me to jump, and i remember his hands on my back, and then the next thing i know i was on the ground and i saw my husband laying in a ball. i thought he was dead. he wasn't moving, didn't look like he was breathing. there was blood everywhere. he was just crumpled up so i started screaming his name and that's when he woke up.

>> the tragic --

>> and he couldn't move his legs.

>> the tragic irony in this this was a float carrying our veterans, heros who survived conflicts overseas. supposed to be a day to support them and show our appreciation for them and this happens, heather.

>> yeah. is it hard to get your arms around that?

>> yeah.

>> bob, i mean, clearly, according to the railroad, this crossing was working properly. the bells were apparently going off, as we've heard now several times. the arms were coming down. i know you're going to take some legal action today. who do you hold responsible?

>> well, you start out by knowing that you don't hold anybody that was on that float responsib responsible. they were there to celebrate. this should never have happened so you kind of work backwards, and there's reasons why this happened. it's going to take a while to sort out all those reasons, but one of the reasons that's obvious is the 20-second warning time is not a sufficient warning. you only have to go back to fox river grove , illinois, in 1995 , october, to know what happens when you have a short warning time like this. in that instance the busload of children were hit.

>> i remember in a.

>> in this instance the same warning time in this case and that's not the way the system was designed. i know it was designed for a 0-second warning time. that information is what we hope to bring to light.

>> well, bob, thank you very much. heather, thank you. we're glad you're okay, and, sergeant, we hope you're back on your feet real soon .

>> i hope so, too. want to get back and fight.

>> and thank you for joining us this morning. we appreciate it.