- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 20, 2012

MIDLAND, Texas — A 50-year-old Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan was driving a parade float that investigators say edged across a railroad crossing in Texas despite warning signals of a fast approaching train, an attorney said Tuesday.

Four veterans were killed in the resulting collision in Midland on Thursday. Sixteen people were injured.

Dale Andrew Hayden was driving one of two flatbed trucks carrying wounded veterans and their loved ones in the procession to honor the war heroes, said Hal Brockett, Hayden’s attorney.

“Words can’t express the sorrow and remorse for the people who got hurt and killed,” Brockett said in an interview Tuesday.

Investigators say the float began crossing the train tracks even though warning bells were sounding and the crossing lights were flashing. A Union Pacific train travelling at more than 60 mph ran into the truck as the occupants scrambled to jump to safety.

Hayden, who has a military career spanning more than three decades, now works as a truck driver for Smith Industries, an oilfield services company. Brockett said the company placed Hayden on medical leave.

Hayden is “kind of catatonic” and not ready to be interviewed, Brockett said. “He’s just very much in shock.”

Doug Fletcher, a Dallas attorney representing Smith Industries, said Hayden is an Army reservist who has been driving for the company for two years and may have driven in the parade before.

Hayden is undergoing “professional counseling,” Fletcher said. “He is beyond distraught.”

Fletcher said the company is taking steps to protect the driver after he received “some hate emails.”

No one responded to a knock on the door at a mobile home listed as Hayden’s residence Tuesday.

Federal investigators on Tuesday plan to re-enact the events that led to the collision. Midland police also are investigating the crash but it’s not clear what, if any, criminal charges will be filed.

“I really can’t speculate as to what any charges might be,” said the county’s district attorney, Teresa Clingman, because the police “investigation is not complete.”

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the railroad crossing warning system was activated 20 seconds before the accident, and the guardrail began to come down seven seconds after that.

But some Midland residents have said there isn’t enough time between when the signal begins and the trains arrive. They say guardrails aren’t completely down by the time a train comes by.

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