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TRAGEDY IN GALICIA

Train inquiry judge declines to prosecute conductor who made call before crash

Renfe worker will appear in court on Friday to testify as a witness in the investigation

Conductor Antonio Martín Marugán, right, observes rescue efforts.
Conductor Antonio Martín Marugán, right, observes rescue efforts. AFP

The judge conducting the investigation into the devastating Alvia train derailment that killed 79 passengers ruled on Thursday that he won’t hold criminally responsible the Renfe employee who made a call to the driver just minutes before the fatal accident.

Santiago de Compostela Judge Luis Aláez said in a ruling that recordings from the train’s black boxes show that conductor Antonio Martín Marugán placed his call to driver Francisco José Garzón two minutes before the accident when the train was some six kilometers away from the sharp A Grandeira curve where the derailment occurred on July 24.

Martín will testify on Friday before Judge Aláez but he is only being called as a witness. Garzón has been provisionally charged with 79 counts of homicide and other violations related to the injuries of 170 other passengers. As of Wednesday, 57 are still hospitalized — 11 of them still listed in critical condition — at different hospitals in Santiago.

Martín, who was a passenger on the train traveling from Madrid to Ferrol, acknowledged on Wednesday that he made the call to Garzón’s corporate phone to ask him to stop at a particular part of the Pontedueme station in A Coruña, when they reached the Galician city, in order to help accommodate a family traveling with children. Renfe regulations prohibit any calls made to the driver during the train’s operation unless it is an emergency.

Martín also acknowledged that he did not tell police investigators that he had made the call minutes before the catastrophe in order to protect his friend Garzón.

In his ruling the judge said that it “was unfortunate because of the time and place” Martín made the call, but that “wasn’t sufficient enough to hold him criminally responsible for carelessness in regards to the train accident.”

As of now, only Garzón is being held responsible.