YOUNGSTOWN, Fla. It was 36-years ago Wednesday that a freight train derailed in Youngstown, spilling deadly chlorine gas. 8-people died, 88-others were injured. A key figure in the investigation says they still can't prove what happened.
February 26, 1978, 2-am. The sound of crunching metal split the stillness of that winter night. A BayLine railroad freight train pulling 140 cars from Dothan and Panama City, derailed.
109-of the cars were loaded, carrying a variety of materials, including turpentine, liquid propane, wood, beer, and the most dangerous, chlorine gas.
Doug Davis was BayLine's Chief Engineer at the time. "The thing happened at 2:05 in the morning which was the worst possible time for the railroad because we didn't have nobody. We had towers 150 feet high in Dothan and Panama City and communication with the road train when somebody was on duty. But at that time of the night, there was nobody on duty."
After the crash the train crew ran to what was Brown's Grocery at Lingerlonger Road to use a telephone.
Sheriff's deputies happened to drive by, thought they were trying to break in, and stopped. "Sheriff's Deputy called the dispatcher and in turn the dispatcher called all the railroaders and emergency people and other people that responded quickly to the derailment site."
But, by then, the chlorine had already taken a deadly toll. "Chlorine is like drowning. It would stop some people's cars and most of the people that were killed and most of the people who were injured was killed because chlorine stopping their vehicle and then entering their lungs and cutting off their oxygen supply."
It took BayLline 3-days to determine someone had sabotaged the tracks, causing the derailment. The F-B-I took over the investigation, even seizing NewsChannel 7's news film.
They could never prove who was responsible. Davis says the disaster could have been worse. "If it hadn't been for the action of the train crew and they Bay County Sheriff's Department and the Highway Patrol and some of the others that immediately responded, ambulance drivers and other people, it would've been a heck of a lot more people than eight that would have been fatalities in this derailment."
It took about a week and a half of continuous clean-up before BayLline could rebuild and reopen the tracks at Youngstown.