We join Central Texans in mourning the loss of four beloved people whose lives were deeply rooted in their families and communities. Saying goodbye, especially to those lost unexpectedly, is tough.
This week, funeral services were held for Kenneth Hoffman, 82, and his wife, Peggy Hoffman, 73, both of Lockhart, who were among four people killed last week when their charter bus was struck by a freight train in Biloxi, Miss. Also killed were Deborah Orr, 62, of Bastrop, and Clinton Havran, 79, of Sealy.
Thirty-five others were injured, with some still hospitalized in Biloxi. In all, 27 were members of the Bastrop Senior Center.
There are plenty of questions regarding this tragedy that have no answers at the moment. For now, we are remembering the deceased and their connection to Central Texas.
Ken Hoffman retired in 1996 as an assistant superintendent of the Lockhart Independent School District; Peggy Hoffman, retired in 2002 as principal of Plum Creek Elementary. Between them, they had a combined 85 years of service to the school district, district spokeswoman Christina Courson told the American-Statesman.
Even in their retirement, the couple remained involved in the district. Peggy Hoffman was a GED instructor in the district’s community education program and filled in for a series of administrative jobs.
Orr also gave back to her community. She served on the board of the Bastrop Senior Center, and as an activity coordinator, helped to organize the Biloxi bus excursion.
She has been described as having a big laugh to go along with her big personality, crazy hats and the beautiful rings she made.
Havran and his wife loved to travel, their family said. He was easy-going and went to Sealy’s coffee shop every day. His wife, Annie, was injured in the collision and is expected to recover.
To be sure, the close-knit communities of Sealy, Bastrop and Lockhart are grieving the loss of their dear friends.
Certainly it is right for families of those deceased and injured as well as the National Transportation Safety Board to seek answers regarding safety issues surrounding this tragedy. To that end, the families have filed lawsuits against Dallas-based Echo Transportation, CSX Transportation, and in one suit, against the bus driver as well.
The 49 Central Texas passengers were on the third day of their seven-day excursion when tragedy struck last Tuesday as their bus headed to a Biloxi casino.
The tour company, Diamond Tours of Florida, had texted directions to all three of its buses headed to the same casino, a National Transportation Safety Board official said. But the Echo Transportation bus took a different route that led to the railroad crossing where it became stuck on train tracks. Officials believe the driver followed directions from Echo’s GPS unit.
It’s worth noting the same crossing was the site of 16 train-auto crashes since 1976. That includes the 1983 fatal collision in which Michael Esters, Biloxi’s first African-American council member died after a train slammed into his car in the dark. Esters Boulevard, which runs parallel to the tracks, was named for him. Another fatal crash at that site happened in 2003, the safety board said.
A current council member, Robert Deming III, said he, too, was hit by a train at a Biloxi railroad crossing in 1996. And as the American-Statesman’s Ben Wear reported, another casino tour bus got stuck last March where Main Street crosses the CSX freight line, with enough time for all 28 passengers to safely evacuate.
In January, a train slammed into a soft drink delivery truck that became stuck on the tracks there, a wreck that produced no deaths or injuries, Wear reported.
Those factors should raise questions about whether the railroad crossing is safe for vehicles, and in particular, buses and trucks that have wide spacing between the tires, which increases the chances of longer vehicles getting stuck on the elevated rail crossing.
Questions about whether the city of Biloxi should do more to educate the public about the dangers of its railroad crossings come to mind. After all, Biloxi, situated on the Gulf coast with its casinos and resorts, is a popular tourist spot.
And there are other issues the safety board is investigating regarding the crash, such as the train’s visibility of the tracks, whether certain crossings should be shut down or reconfigured, and the length of time the Echo bus was stuck before being evacuated. What we do know is that most of the people still were on the bus when the train slammed into it.
Like other Central Texans, we will wait — and push for — answers. Closure depends on that.
In the meantime, our concerns and heart-felt condolences go out to the families and loved ones of Peggy and Ken Hoffman, Orr and Havran. We also join those wishing the dozens who were injured a speedy recovery. Healing from tragedies, especially unexpected ones, is difficult, but gets better with time.