A highway overpass in southeast Missouri collapsed early Saturday when rail cars slammed into one of the bridge's pillars after a cargo train collision, authorities said. Seven people were injured, though none seriously.
The bridge collapsed after a Union Pacific train hit the side of a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train at a rail intersection. Derailed rail cars then hit columns supporting the Highway M overpass, causing it to buckle and partially collapse.
The National Transportation Safety Board launched an investigation into the cause of the cargo train collision, which happened about 2:30 a.m. near Chaffee, a town of about 3,000 southwest of Cape Girardeau.
Only two vehicles were on the overpass at the time. Five people in the vehicles were taken to Saint Francis Medical Center in Cape Girardeau, as were a Union Pacific train conductor and an engineer. All seven had been released by Saturday afternoon, hospital spokeswoman Felecia Blanton said.
"You're driving down the road and the next thing you know the bridge is not there. ... It could have been really bad," Scott County Sheriff Rick Walter said.
The crash derailed about two dozen rail cars hauling scrap metal, automobiles and auto parts, tossing them into the overpass' support columns. The highway was shut down for about 8 miles from Scott City to Chaffee.
The overpass was about 15 years old and in good condition but just couldn't withstand the impact from the rail cars, Walter said.
Two 40-foot sections of the overpass buckled while two cars were on the roadway, sending the cars into the edges of the collapsed sections. A diesel fire also broke out in one of the locomotives after the collision, but was quickly extinguished, Walter said.
When Blanton heard about the crash, she immediately went online and saw video footage of the scene and was bracing for the worst, Blanton said. She said it was "a real blessing" that the injuries were relatively minor, the most serious being a fracture.
"If you look at the pictures, they're very dramatic, and there are no serious injuries," she said. "So it's amazing."
Walter said Deputy Justin Wooten was among the first at the scene and pulled the two Union Pacific employees out of the wrecked engine, which became lodged next to the train's second engine. That engine began burning after the crash.
"We're very fortunate he was there," Walter said. He said all seven people injured were already out of the wreckage when he arrived about 15 minutes after the crash was reported.
"People were talking; they were coherent. They understood what was happening," Walter said.
The cars on the overpass "took a really bad hit" when they collided with the bridge sections, but "they stayed on all four tires and they just hit and landed and that was it," he said.
The accident came more than a week after a commuter train derailment in Connecticut that injured 70 people and disrupted service for days. That accident involved a railroad used by tens of thousands of commuters north of New York City.
In Washington state this past week, a bridge collapsed when a truck driver's load bumped against the steel framework.
NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt said "there is no similarity" between the Missouri accident and the bridge collapse in Washington, which sent two vehicles and three people falling into the chilly water. "This was a rail collision," he added.
The Union Pacific train involved in the collision was carrying primarily automobiles or auto parts from Illinois to Texas, said UP spokeswoman Calli Hite. She said about a dozen UP railcars derailed.
Hite said there was no estimate yet on the amount of damage to the roadway or the rail cars.
BNSF spokesman Andy Williams said about 12 cars on the 75-car BNSF train derailed. The BNSF crew was not hurt.
Sumwalt said NTSB investigation will include testing railroad employees for drugs and alcohol, testing the track and nearby rail signals and reviewing video footage from the front of the train in an effort to determine the likely cause. The NTSB will also review the bridge's design.
Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords says the futures of today's college graduates "shines bright."
Giffords spoke only briefly Saturday at the Bard College commencement but urged the graduates to create, lead and innovate.
Giffords was among 13 people wounded in a January 2011 shooting outside a Tucson, Ariz., supermarket that left six others dead. The Democrat resigned from Congress a year later.
In her one minute, 20 second speech, the former congresswoman told the graduates they can start changing the world tomorrow. She urged them to "be bold, be courageous, be your best."
Giffords' husband joined her at the podium. Retired astronaut Mark Kelly talked about their new organization, Americans For Responsible Gun Control. He says its focus is to keep communities safer while protecting the Second Amendment.
Authorities on Saturday searched amid rainy and windy conditions for an Iowa teenager who was abducted Monday.
It was the sixth day searchers scoured various areas in central Iowa for 15-year-old Kathlynn Shepard, who was kidnapped along with a 12-year-old friend from a school bus stop.
Police have said Michael Klunder, 42, abducted the girls in Dayton, a small town about 60 miles north of Des Moines, after asking if they wanted to make money mowing lawns. Investigators said he took them to a hog confinement building where he worked. The 12-year-old girl was able to escape when Klunder took Kathlynn to another part of the property. Klunder committed suicide hours later.
Only trained personnel, not volunteers, took part in Saturday's search for Kathlynn, the Des Moines Register reported.
Officials were combing an area Saturday between the hog confinement and a spot several miles southeast where their backpacks were found late Tuesday.
Authorities' hopes of finding Kathlynn alive were dampened Thursday, when her blood was found on Klunder's truck and at the hog confinement site.
Still, some 150 law enforcement officials and 200 volunteers searched Friday throughout parts of three rural counties.
Among those volunteers was John Porter, 49, of Lehigh, who had helped search every day beginning Monday night.
"I'm tired, but who cares until we find her," Porter told the Register. "It makes me sick to my stomach just thinking about it."
After surviving a deadly B-52 bomber crash and a night on a frozen mountainside, Gerald Adler, injured and frostbitten, could recall only the red handlebar mustache of his rescuer.
For the first time in 50 years, the retired Air Force captain came face-to-face with the mustachioed medic, Eugene Slabinski, who dropped from a helicopter to rescue him and the only other survivor after a night in 5 feet of snow in the wilderness of northern Maine.
The two gripped each other in a bear hug Saturday.
"He doesn't have the red moustache anymore," Adler joked, pointing out Slabinski's snow white hair.
The long-delayed meeting was a bright spot in a somber observance as 75 people joined Adler, 81, and Slabinski, 83, on Memorial Day weekend to remember the Cold War tragedy that occurred when their B-52 bomber encountered turbulence strong enough to snap off the vertical stabilizer, causing it to crash onto the side of Elephant Mountain on Jan. 24, 1963.
Seven crew members died. Adler survived along with the pilot, Lt. Col. Dan Bulli, after spending 20 hours on the mountainside as the temperature plummeted to more than 20 below.
A pained Adler said he had mixed emotions. He survived while others died. He raised a family and is now a grandfather living in Davis, Calif. Other families lost sons, fathers, brothers, uncles in the crash.
It was supposed to be a routine low-level training flight to test ground-avoidance radar.
Powered by eight jet engines, the B-52 Stratofortress flew north from Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts before being buffeted by gusts coming off mountains in western Maine. Eventually, the turbulence became severe, and there was a loud bang. The B-52 crashed seconds later.
Only three crew members had time to eject.
Bulli ended up dangling in a tree 30 feet above the ground. The deep snow saved Adler's life after his parachute failed to deploy and he crashed to the ground in his ejection seat. The co-pilot also ejected but smashed into a tree. Six others went down with the aircraft.
The B-52 crash in Maine and another one six days later in New Mexico helped to reveal a structural weakness that caused the vertical stabilizer to snap off under certain conditions.
Slabinski, of Hanover Township, Pa., was part of the crew of the first rescue helicopter on the scene the following morning. He dropped to the snowy terrain to get Bulli, then Adler, both of whom were hoisted to safety.
He was happy to find two survivors. He recalled seeing Bulli first because he'd deployed an inflatable raft. He gave him morphine for his injured foot. Adler, though, was in worse condition with severe frostbite, broken ribs and a fractured skull. He was unconscious for five days and eventually his leg was amputated because of gangrene.
Bulli, 90, of Omaha, Neb., was unable to attend Saturday's event. He had specially engraved lighters sent to the five helicopter crew members at Otis Air Force Base, telling them in a note, "Thanks for the lift."
Slabinski still has his.
Saturday's remembrance included an event at the Moosehead Riders snowmobile club house in Greenville, followed by a rain-soaked event at the crash site, still strewn with debris. The families of three crew members participated, along with several rescuers who used snowmobiles and snowshoes to reach it.
Adler said the crash underscored that military service can be a deadly business, even in peacetime.
"Deaths don't always occur in combat. This is a noncombat situation, a combat simulation. That's why we were down so low. And seven men died. And people die all the time, and it's not just Vietnam, or Korea or World War II. Just give thanks that people are willing to give a portion of their lives over to help serve their country," he said.
A survivor of a deadly Maine B-52 bomber crash has reunited with the man who rescued him at a somber event marking 50 years since the accident.
Retired Air Force navigator Gerald Adler traveled from California for the event at Elephant Mountain, where seven crew members died during the crash on a training mission in January 1963.
Among those attending the event Saturday was the medic who dropped from a helicopter to rescue Adler. They hadn't seen each other since that fateful day.
Adler, now 81, was injured and frostbitten when he first encountered Eugene Slabinski and remembered him for his red handlebar mustache. He joked that the 83-year-old Slabinski now has white hair.
Adler says he has mixed emotions about surviving while others died.
The first summer season after Superstorm Sandy is underway at the Jersey shore, parts of which were devastated by the October storm.
Cold, wet weather is expected to keep at least some potential vacationers away this weekend, but others are returning to their favorite shore spots regardless of the temperature.
Rainy weather and below-normal temperatures were forecast to continue Saturday, with things improving somewhat Sunday. Monday is forecast to be the best weather of the holiday weekend, with the sun finally breaking through and higher temperatures returning.
Most boardwalks and beaches have been repaired following the storm and are ready for visitors, even as some neighborhoods near the ocean remain seriously damaged.
New Jersey officials have spent the last week touting the shore's recovery.
Sara Jane Olson, the Minnesota woman who served seven years in prison for her involvement in high-profile 1970s radicalism, is edging back into public life — this time voluntarily — as she and a friend petition the Obama administration to reduce disparities in prison sentences for crack and powder cocaine.
Olson returned to Minnesota after her 2009 parole from a California prison, and lives with her husband in the same St. Paul home where she was arrested in 1999. Once known as Kathleen Soliah, Olson spent 25 years as a fugitive after joining the short-lived Symbionese Liberation Army, the small group best known for the 1974 kidnapping of California heiress Patty Hearst.
Captured in 1999, Olson finally pleaded guilty to helping place pipe bombs under Los Angeles police cars and participating in a bank robbery near Sacramento in which a woman was killed. Deeply private since her release, Olson said she decided to talk to The Associated Press because of strong convictions about her new crusade, which she said is motivated in part by her own time in prison.
"I don't really like to talk about my personal experience in terms of my family and all that," Olson said in an interview on Friday. "But when I was there, at some point I did adjust to it and I said, 'I have to learn something from this.'"
Olson and her friend and next-door neighbor, Mary McLeod, filed the White House petition Thursday asking the president to exercise executive clemency for prisoners serving time under now-discarded sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine. In 2010, Congress cut those sentences to align more closely with those for powder cocaine, but that only applied to new sentences going forward. The women's petition says that left more than 5,000 prisoners still serving time longer than the new rules would require.
"There's just no good argument for that continuing to be the case, so we said let's see what we can do," said McLeod, a retired attorney who moved into the house next door while Olson was in prison. The petition was McLeod's idea, and one of Olson's adult daughters is helping.
The interview occurred in McLeod's living room; Olson, now 66, looks fit, with long white hair and a deeply lined face. She is quick with statistics and opinions about the cause.
"The war on drugs is a politically convenient peg on which to hang a lot of things, and that has been done by a lot of politicians," Olson said. She and McLeod, as many critics have done, said the differences in crack and powder cocaine sentences stem from stereotypes of crack as a drug for poor black people while powder cocaine is for rich white people.
In the petition, the women ask the White House to establish a panel to review individual cases of the prisoners in question, and then make recommendations to President Barack Obama about which of them deserve to be released. That would mimic the 1974 process by which President Gerald Ford commuted sentences of large numbers of Vietnam draft evaders.
Anyone can file a petition to the White House, but it requires 100,000 signatures in 30 days to trigger an actual White House review. And that's no guarantee of action, either. Olson and McLeod are trying to circulate it widely in activist circles, and have posted it on Change.org, an online petition platform. Two days after its posting, the petition — one of more than 100 on the White House site https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/ was nearing 100 signatures.
"It takes a certain amount of guts. You'd think after her experience with the criminal justice system, she'd run in the other direction," said Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor who followed Olson's case and is also acquainted with the sentencing disparity issue. "But notwithstanding the nature of her crimes, she was a very intelligent person and it strikes me she still has some of that cause burning in her."
Olson said she did volunteer work in women prisons even before her 1999 arrest. But once in prison, she said she experienced firsthand the toll of heavy drug sentences on prison populations. She said that's what brought most of her fellow inmates behind bars. "Most of them were addicts," she said.
"They had us eight women to a room. There were 80-year-old women, already going through dementia, sharing space with an 18-year-old, and you're supposed to all get along?" Olson said.
Before her arrest, Olson was well known among Twin Cities' liberal activists and as a sometime-actress in local theater. She declined to share many details about her life now, but did reveal she's a grandmother. She also wouldn't talk about her 1970s radicalism or her years as a fugitive. In a written apology before her sentencing, Olson described SLA members as "young and foolish." Among the group's victims was a mother of four killed in the Sacramento-area bank robbery.
"I just intend to focus on issues like this because I've been there and I feel kind of on a mission to do what I can to help people get out and recover their lives, for those who can," Olson said. "I'm fortunate to be out, and I can be one of many people that can reach people."
Link to Olson/McLeod petition: http://1.usa.gov/1agK0Ml
The body of 19-year-old University of New Hampshire student Elizabeth "Lizzi" Marriot still has not been found — one of the many mysteries surrounding her killing and the couple charged in her death.
Thirty-year-old Seth Mazzaglia told investigators she died with a rope around her neck during a consensual sex act gone bad. Prosecutors are adamant she was murdered but so far won't say what evidence they have to back up their allegations.
Court documents detail the far-fetched alibis Mazzaglia and 19-year-old Kathryn McDonough initially gave to police in October — just days after the college sophomore disappeared.
He is facing first-degree murder and other charges. She is charged with conspiracy and hindering prosecution. Trial dates haven't been set.
The couple's attorneys haven't returned calls seeking comment.