SPARTANBURG, S.C. (ABP) — The conductor of an amusement train involved in a March 19 crash that killed a pastor's son said on the way to the hospital he was driving too fast, that he knew better and didn't know how he was going to live with himself after the tragedy, according to an incident report.
A police officer who rode in an ambulance with conductor Matthew Mark Conrad, 42, said the driver reported that he would go slow on the first lap of the miniature train ride at Cleveland Park in Spartanburg, S.C., go a little faster on the second lap and then "opened it up" to go faster on the third lap. When the train crossed a bridge on a curve he felt the back end of the engine come off the track and cars overturned, spilling passengers into a rocky creek bed.
Fifteen children and adults from Corinth Baptist Church in Gaffney, S.C., were on board, following a Saturday morning outing to a pottery studio. Church members suffered injuries from scrapes and bruises to broken bones, lacerations and head and body trauma.
Benjamin Samuel "Benji" Easler, 6-year-old son of Pastor Dwight Easler, did not survive his injuries. He was pronounced dead at Spartanburg Regional Medical Center. His funeral service is scheduled at 4 p.m. Thursday, March 24, at Corinth Baptist Church, 190 Corinth Road, in Gaffney, S.C. Burial will follow in the church cemetery. Visitation, also at the church, is scheduled for 6-8 p.m. Wednesday.
He was a member of Corinth Baptist Church and attended kindergarten at Corinth Elementary School. Survivors include his parents, Dwight and Tabitha Easler; two brothers, Seth and Matthew Easler, and a sister on the way. He is survived by maternal grandparents, Wayne and Margie Reece of Boiling Springs, S.C.; paternal grandparents Dwight Sr. and Ruth Easler of Spartanburg, S.C., and a great grandmother.
A fund was set up at Corinth Baptist Church to help affected families with medical expenses not covered by insurance. Any excess funds collected will be used for children's ministry in Benji's memory.
The Spartanburg Herald-Journal reported that a state worker who was supposed to inspect the train resigned after he told officials he falsified a report that cleared it for use. The newspaper said the inspector, Donnie Carrigan, found a dead battery in the train that prevented him from giving the train a required test run, but he gave it a clean inspection report anyway.
"He was a good man who made a mistake," Catherine Templeton, director of the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, said of Carrigan, who worked as a state inspector for elevators and amusement rides for two decades.
The train derailed within one hour of its first run of the season, injuring 28 people and killing one. The newspaper said the Spartanburg Public Safety Commission was continuing an investigation into whether the accident was caused "by mechanical failure or human error" but quoted an official saying there was no evidence to indicate it was sabotaged, despite international media reports to the contrary.
The state has suspended all miniature train rides in South Carolina pending the outcome of the investigation into the tragedy at Cleveland Park.
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.