- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 16, 2000

LINTHICUM A light-rail train crashed into a terminal at Baltimore-Washington International Airport yesterday, injuring the driver and 21 passengers.

The crash was the second in less than a year involving a light-rail train at the stop.

The four-car train apparently was traveling too fast when it came to the end of the tracks at the international terminal at 7:20 a.m.

The lead car careened upward off the abutment. The top of the car punched into the ceiling while the bottom corner was crushed by the terminal wall. The exterior of the other cars appeared undamaged.

A federal investigator said last night the accident was a "carbon copy" of a February crash that sent 24 persons to the hospital. The driver in that accident admitted using cocaine and prescription drugs before the crash.

John Hammerschmidt of the National Transportation Safety Board said a preliminary investigation showed no signs that the brakes had been applied and found the track signals had worked properly.

Officials did not know how many passengers were on the train. Most of the injured were in the front car with the operator.

Hospital reports included injuries to backs, knees, hips, forearms, necks, "sore all over," and cuts to heads and faces. All were treated at local hospitals and released.

Robert Allen Davis of Baltimore, whose left shoulder was injured, said he had to manually open a door on the train to get out.

"The train started to slow down, I got up to get off, and it sped back up into the roof, basically," Mr. Davis said.

"The water was coming down onto the car I was on. From the first car, a couple women were up there, they were bleeding pretty bad. Another woman fell into the car, so I helped her off."

MTA spokesman Anthony Brown said plans are under way to install safety controls that will automatically slow and stop trains if they exceed limits. The limit coming into the terminal is 13 mph.

"It will be a system that would stop the train if it was going too fast," Mr. Brown said, preventing a repeat of the crashes this year.

Train operator Dentis David Thomas, 48, of Baltimore is a 26-year MTA employee who has operated light-rail trains for six years. He told investigators he blacked out and does not remember details of the accident.

He complained of neck and back pains and was taken to Mercy Hospital for examination and a blood test that would reveal if there were drugs or alcohol in his system.

MTA Administrator Ron Freeland said trains operated by Mr. Thomas had been involved in three accidents in the past 13 months. Two accidents were not his fault, but he was suspended three days after a derailment at the Glen Burnie rail yard.

Investigators plan to interview Mr. Thomas, passengers and witnesses today, said Jo Strang, the NTSB's chief of accident investigations.

The light-rail trains operate between BWI and Baltimore's Penn Station. Officials said the early morning trains transport more airport employees than passengers.

The terminal stop was closed after the accident. Light-rail passengers were discharged at stops near the airport. Shuttle buses at first took passengers only as far as the nearest parking lots and they had to walk to the terminal with their luggage.

The operator in the Feb. 13 crash, Sam Epps Jr., faces trial on reckless endangerment charges in October.

Three of 24 passengers were seriously injured. Investigators said the train was going between 22 and 24 mph when it crashed.

MTA has since changed personnel rules. Operators now have to have a special driver's license, must undergo recertification exams every six months, and must submit to unscheduled, random drug tests, Mr. Brown said.

Mr. Epps, an employee for 26 years and a train operator for seven years, was fired about 10 days after the February crash. Officials said he failed to inform supervisors that he was taking prescription drugs.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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