- By Philip Jankowski American-Statesman Staff
A trip organized by a Bastrop center for seniors turned deadly Tuesday afternoon after four people were killed and dozens injured when their charter bus was struck by a train in Biloxi, Miss.
On Tuesday night, Lockhart school district officials identified two of the people who died as Ken and Peggy Hoffman, both of whom were former school administrators. Peggy Hoffman was previously the assistant principal at Lockhart High School, according to the Lockhart Post-Register.
“We feel their loss deeply across the district, remembering the mark that they made upon us and upon a generation of children in our community,” school officials said in the email.
The other two victims were not identified Tuesday, but the Harrison County coroner said they were a man and a woman. Bastrop Police Chief Steve Adcock said he will release the identities Wednesday.
The head of the Bastrop Senior Center told the American-Statesman that all of the passengers had signed up for a seven-day trip. The bus left Austin on Sunday and planned to tour casinos in the Gulf Coast. In total, 51 people in the tour group were on board.
Bastrop Police Chief Steve Adcock confirmed Tuesday that at least 27 passengers were from Bastrop County. Of those, 22 were members of the senior center, Bastrop Senior Center President Barbara Adkins. Other passengers are believed to be from Austin and Sealy, officials said.
“Some of them lost their lives, some who have been injured, some of those injuries we know are very serious,” Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape said. “For their families having to wait, watch and not know — we’ll get that information out as soon as we can — but in the meantime just say a little prayer of peace and hope.”
The crash happened at 2:14 p.m. at a rail crossing in downtown Biloxi. The bus, owned and operated by Dallas-based company Echo Transportation, had been on Main Street crossing the train tracks when it became stuck. An eyewitness said the bus was stuck for five to 10 minutes before it was hit by a freight train.
The train, operated by Jacksonville, Fla.-based CSX, pushed the bus about 300 feet before it came to a stop.
Besides the dead, 35 people were injured, four of whom were described as hospitalized in critical condition.
Emergency personnel had to use hydraulic rescue tools to remove two people who were trapped in the vehicle. It took about 45 minutes to remove all the other occupants, Biloxi Fire Chief Joe Boney said.
Seven people were uninjured.
Local officials said clergy from numerous faiths gathered at the site of the crash as passengers, mainly senior citizens, were removed from the bus and taken to area hospitals. Some yelled prayers as a small group of uninjured people were escorted from the large crash scene, which had been marked off with yellow tape.
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The group had been about ¾ mile from their intended destination, the Boomtown Casino Biloxi located on the shores of Biloxi Bay. The group had set out earlier that day from the Gulf Coast Hollywood Casino and resort about 45 miles away, according to officials and an itinerary of the trip obtained by the Statesman.
Fifty-two people signed up for a trip that promised a week of touring Gulf Coast casinos and guided tours in New Orleans and Biloxi. One person left the group after becoming ill, Adkins said.
Adkins said she had spoken the trip’s coordinator Mary Lucas, who was on board the bus.
“I’ve heard back from someone who said, ‘I’ve seen things that I just don’t think I’ll ever forget,’” Adkins said. “So that hurts. This is something that you would never expect to happen.”
The trip had set off Sunday for Biloxi with the group arriving at the resort and casino Monday. They were supposed to return Saturday.
Gov. Greg Abbott said in an emailed statement that Abbott and his wife “are deeply saddened by the loss of life in this tragic accident, and we extend our prayers to the families who lost loved ones and to all those affected by this tragedy.”
Just two months earlier, a train hit a tractor-trailer that became stuck on at the same rail crossing. No one was injured in that accident, according to the Biloxi Sun Herald.
In 2013, 12 people were injured in another bus crash involving a Bastrop Senior Center casino trip. That crash happened on Interstate 10 near the Iowa, La., when the bus was hit by a pickup on Interstate 10.