SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain — A veteran train driver with a zest for speed was arrested in his hospital room in northwest Spain where investigators are trying to determine whether reckless behavior caused a train wreck that left dozens of passengers dead, the authorities said Friday.
Xoan Soler/La Voz de Galicia, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Lalo R. Villar/Associated Press
The driver, Francisco José Garzón Amo, 52, is the focus of a criminal investigation, according to Jaime Iglesias, the national police commander from Galicia, who said at a news conference that investigators were waiting for his condition to improve to start questioning him about Wednesday’s crash. A judicial inquiry could also take place in the hospital where he is recovering, the police commander added.
Photographs of the driver, his face bloodied, appeared prominently in Spanish newspapers along with screen grabs of the driver’s now deleted Facebook page, on which he bragged last year about topping speeds of 200 kilometers, or 124 miles, per hour.
But Julio Gómez-Pomar, the president of Renfe, Spain’s rail network, on Friday described the driver as a seasoned employee who had passed through the curved wall where the crash took place some 60 times without incident and had exhaustive knowledge of the line.
The black boxes, recovered from the wreckage of the train, the Alvia 151, could help explain why it roared off the track on a bend as it was approaching Santiago de Compostela at twice the speed limit.
With new identifications of bodies, the death toll from the train wreck was revised down to 78. Most of the victims were from Spain, along with some passengers from Algeria, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and the United States.
In silence and tears, relatives of victims gathered by the broken track and the gray concrete bend marked with scallop shells, the symbols of the ancient way of the apostle St. James. The shell is a badge of honor for pilgrims who complete the journey along the ancient Camino de Santiago de Compostela.
Ana Maria Cordoba, an administrative employee with the Arlington Diocese in Virginia, was riding the train with her husband and daughter to visit her son, who had just completed the camino. Her husband and daughter survived, but Mrs. Cordoba did not. Victor de Sola and his wife, Maria, both 92, were also among the victims. They visited Santiago de Compostela every year for the feast day of St. James on July 25.
“My brother died doing what he loved the most, and that is something that gives me some relief,” said Tomás de Sola. The couple were buried Thursday.
By early Friday, at least six bodies had not yet been identified. The Red Cross organized an information center for families at the Cersia Building in Santiago. Some relatives fumed openly about the wait for answers and permission to take the remains of victims.
“My brother is there in a coffin, and I want to take him home,” said a young woman with a red blanket around her shoulders who would give her name only as Deborah. “But the organization is telling us that we have to talk to a psychologist, and we are very frustrated.”
Genma Rodrigues, her eyes red, stood near the exit of the Cersia Building. She was still waiting for news about two friends, Eva Pérez, 24, and Celtia Cabido, 22, who did not arrive for a huge reunion of friends from around Europe. “It’s too terrible,” Ms. Rodrigues said. “I can’t bear it right now.”
Another missing passenger was Rosalina Ynoa, a native of the Dominican Republic and a mother of four sons who was visiting Santiago for work.
“She was a public servant in the Dominican government and traveled to Galicia to organize an official meeting in a few months,” said Frank Bencosme, the Dominican consul. “She had a sister in Coruña and planned to visit her. But she didn’t make it.”
The city of Santiago is in mourning, with a concert stage at Plaza Quintana draped in black.
As the Alvia trains returned to Santiago station, some of the passengers said they tried to quell their fears.
“My little granddaughter did not want to get on the train,” said Ana Cristina Jiménez, 73, a Santiago resident arriving from Madrid who added that she had calmed the child with a pill. “The train was driving so slowly that we knew they were doing it on purpose.”