After nearly two hours of testimony before an investigative judge, the Alvia train driver being held responsible for last week’s deadly crash that killed 79 passengers told a judge he “got confused” when he enter a sharp curve at more than double the speed limit that led to the derailing of the fast train.
Francisco José Garzón was released from custody shortly after midnight Sunday after he was held responsible to answer to 79 homicide counts and other violations related to the injuries of at least 170 other passengers, all stemming from professional negligence on his part.
Santiago de Compostela Judge Luis Aláez confiscated Garzón’s passport and barred him from working as a train driver until at least February 2014.
It was the first time Garzón had given a statement to investigators concerning last Wednesday’s crash. He refused to talk to the police after he was formally arrested on Thursday in his hospital room where he was recovering from minor injuries.
According to court sources, Garzón told Judge Aláez he took responsibility for the crash, which he attributed to “confusion” at the time. He did not complain about the train or the conditions of the rail track, one source said.
He acknowledged that he enter the sharp curve in the Santiago de Compostela district of Angrois at 190km/h; the speed limit is 80km/h.
The train was headed to Ferrol from Madrid on July 24 when it derailed at 8.47pm, slamming into a concrete wall.
After hearing his testimony, prosecutor Antonio Roma did not ask that the 52-year-old driver be placed in preventive custody. Judge Áláez, nevertheless, ordered him to report every week to court officers.
Garzón was taken by police to the courthouse in Santiago de Compostela where scores of reporters waited for him. Police cordoned off a large area around the building.
Judge Luis Aláez ordered Garzón arrested in his hospital room where he was recovering from minor injuries. When police tried to interview him on Thursday, Garzón exercised his right to remain silent.
On Sunday, the death toll from the accident rose to 79 after 58-year-old woman from Houston, Texas died from her head injuries. Myrta Lasalle Fariza, a native of Puerto Rico but who had been living in Houston, was the second US citizen to have died in the crash. Ana María Ángel de Córdoba, 47, of Fairfax, Virginia was among the first reported victims.
On Saturday after Garzón was released from the hospital, Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz said that “there was no doubt that there was rational reasoning to believe that he could be held responsible for what happened.”
Garzón had told the train control personnel that he had been going up to 190 km/h in a 90 km/h zone when the train entered a sharp curve, derailed and hit a concrete wall.
Authorities have pointed to speed as the culprit, and officials have said that the brakes should have been applied 2.5 miles before the train hit the curve. Now investigators must determine if Garzón failed to apply the brakes or whether it was a technical failure.