79 counts of homicide: Francisco Jose Garzon has been charged with 79 counts of homicide by professional recklessness as the operator of a train carrying 218 passengers that derailed in Spain Wednesday when it took a high-risk curve too quickly. At least 79 passengers died, and 70 remain in hospital, with 22 in critical condition.
Spanish media have quoted Garzon following the accident. El Pais quotes from a recording of an emergency services call the driver made following the accident: “I had to go at 80 kilometers per hour [50 mph] but I’m going at 190.” He used the present tense though the accident was in the past, according to El Pais.
“The poor passengers,” he said. “I hope that no one has been killed.”
Efe news agency reports that Garzon told a government representative: “I derailed, what am I going to do? What am I going to do?”
The brakes should have been applied 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) before the curve, according to the railway authorities. A local resident who helped Garzon from the train told Antena 3 television: “He said he had needed to brake but couldn’t. … He had been going fast.”
The resident, Evaristo Iglesias, also said, “He told us that he wanted to die. … ‘I don’t want to see this, I want to die,’ that’s what he said repeatedly.”
Garzon has been released without bail, as none of the parties involved feel there is a risk of him fleeing, according to a court statement. He was questioned for just under two hours at a court in Santiago de Compostela, the northwestern town near where the accident occurred, and must return to court once a week.
Investigators must determine whether the brakes malfunctioned or whether Garzon failed to implement them.
The rail firm, Talgo, informally confirmed to El Pais on Thursday that the train was going at an “extreme speed.” The firm uses internal speed controls. Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz told CNN and other reporters on Saturday there are “rational indications” that Garzon was at fault, but he did not provide details.
A funeral mass will be held Monday afternoon in Santiago de Compostela to honor the victims. The Spanish prime minister and royal family are expected to attend.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.