Dillon, SC Train Wreck, Apr 1953

Death Toll from Train Accident At Dillon Now Unofficially Six.

Marion's Fire Chief Tells Of Seeing Dead at Scene.

DILLON, April 21 - Death still cast a wavering hand over the survivors of the nightmarish Atlantic Coast Line train wreck tonight, with the unofficial toll of life set at six. More than 125 were injured.

JOE BOATWRIGHT, Marion's fire chief, said he saw "four dead for certain," and was sure that two more dead were taken out of the twisted tombs of what was a crack stream-liner bound from Miami to New York Monday night.

Even as rescue workers dug feverishly and wrecking crews from Rocky Mount and Florence labored over the twisted steel and iron, fire mushroomed from one of the pullman's. Flames roared skyward and dense clouds of smoke billowed hundreds of feet into the air.

Fire departments from Marion, Latta, Dillon and Fayetteville had answered the original call when the Diesel locomotive of the crack train burned. Most of those departments had sent all but skeleton crews back to their home stations. However, equipment was hurried back to the scene when fire again raged shortly before noon Tuesday.

It appeared that many hours would elapse before a definite count on dead and injured could be made. The injured were scattered to more than a half-dozen hospitals. In addition many more than the 140-odd in the hospitals had received first aid treatment and then were lodged at nearby tourist courts and hotels.

JOSEPH D. ABISALAH, 60, of Old Orchard Beach, Maine, died shortly after midnight at McLeod Infirmary from injuries received in the Dillon train wreck.

ABISALAH had been paralyzed from a fractured neck.

B. S. JEFFORDS, of Wilmington, N. C., ACL vice president, made the figure on the "known death" toll at three. However, he conceded that the figure might be larger. He posted to the possibility of several bodies remaining in the wreck. Too, he said, the ambulance horde had been so great that it was impossible to keep count on where injured and dead were being taken. He said a special crew was canvassing funeral homes in the area so that a definite death toll could be known.

The actual cause of the wreck was not known. JEFFORDS said that he didn't believe the train was"speeding." He pointed out that the Champion had left Savannah and Florence on time and the time of the wreck, 11:15, indicated that it was "on time" at that point. JEFFORDS said that, at Florence, the train was carrying 287 passengers with tickets through to Richmond and that several more persons had gotten aboard at Florence.



1953 train wreck in Dillon.

I was on that train and I had just turned ten years old at the time. I was coming back from a Florida vacation. We were in the third car from the engine. When the train derailed the cars were scattered. We wound up close to the engine which was on fire. It was dark and the only light we saw was from the fire and the smell of fuel burning was ominous. Our car was lying on it's side, under our feet was broken glass from the windows and there was no way out. Fortunately, local residents used a blow torch to make an opening through which we all escaped. I was one of the first ones out and my mother was behind me since somebody dramatically hollered out loud and clear- "women and children first". On the day after,a photographer took pictures. He stuck a doll in my arms (for dramatic appeal I guess) but he gave me the wrong name, Phyllis, and gave my age as eleven. My mother threw away the paper and I would love to have that picture. The local people were incredibly helpful and generous. That was my first taste of southern hospitality. I will never forget that.