McBee, SC Train And Truck Collision, July 1984


McBee, S.C. (UPI) -- Amtrak's northbound Silver Star passenger train plowed into a tanker truck today, killing three people and setting off a towering fire that forced evacuation of the train and part of the town.
Telephone lines into this small town northeast of Columbia were jammed, but Police Chief Don Sowell said, "We have three deaths." Apparently at least one person was injured.
In Washington, an Amtrakspokesman said only two were dead -- the engineer of the train and the driver of the truck loaded with diesel fuel, a man identified as JOHN COKER of Florence, S.C.
The train's fireman, Amtrak said, was critically injured.
However, a police spokeswoman at McBee insisted that, "There are three bodies still there," at the scene. Marvin Goldman, administrator of the Byerly Hospital in nearby Hartsville, S.C., said one unidentified man was brought to the hospital in critical condition from the wreck.
Amtrak said all 309 passengers of the 14-car train, running from Miami to New York, were safely evacuated to a nearby high school and eight Trailways buses were dispatched to McBee to take them to another rail connection.
The spokesman said the train struck a tanker truck "belonging to Railwater Transportation Co. when it reportedly pulled onto the crossing and stopped."
A "very orange, very bright" fire engulfed the mangled tanker, said Donna Sowell, the daughter of the McBee police chief, who was manning the telephones.
She said firefighters had given up trying to extinguish the fire, but the train, which did not derailed, had been pulled back from the blaze.
She said between 50 and 100 people were taken from home in the residential area where the collision occurred.
"There was an explosion when they collided but since then there's been no explosion," she said.
"It shook the house (three blocks away) when it went off."
"There's a lot of smoke, you could see it for maybe seven miles. It's just rolling off it. The flames, I can't even tell you how high they are -- very high."

Biddeford Journal Maine 1984-07-11