People carry a coffin of one of the train crash victims during a funeral at the San Pedro de Visma cemetery in A Coruna, Spain, on July 28.
(Photo: Lalo R. Villar, AP)
The driver of a Spanish train that derailed at high speed killing 79 people has been provisionally charged with multiple cases of negligent homicide.
A court statement issued late Sunday said investigative magistrate Luis Alaez released driver Francisco Jose Garzon Amo without bail. Garzon must appear before court once a week and is forbidden to leave Spain without permission.
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The death toll rose to 79 on Sunday with the death of an American passenger, her family and officials in Spain said. Myrta Fariza of Houston died at University Hospital in Santiago de Compostela.
Officials said 70 people injured in the accident remain hospitalized, 22 of them in critical condition.
Fariza and her husband, Robert Fariza, were passengers on the train that derailed Wednesday. Her family created a Facebook page while she was hospitalized, titled "Hope for Myrta,'' and described her as a "loving wife, mother, sister, mother-in-law, aunt and friend.''
They say she provided "irreplaceable love, compassion, courage, friendship and support" to all who knew her.
The driver of the train involved in Spain's worst rail disaster in almost 70 years was going before a judge who will decide whether criminal charges should be filed.
Francisco Garzon Amo, who suffered a bloody head wound in the crash, is accused of suspicion of reckless homicide. Scores more of the 218 passengers were injured when the eight-car train, traveling well above the 50-mph limit in a turn, whipped off the tracks and crashed in the northwestern town of Santiago de Compostela.
Garzon Amo, 52, will have the opportunity to speak at the closed hearing but is not required to. Other witnesses also could testify, and the judge will have access to information from the train's "black box," similar to data recording devices found on planes.
Garzon Amo, minutes after the crash, told a local rescuer that he had been going fast and couldn't brake, a local resident who rushed to the accident scene said Sunday.
Evaristo Iglesias said he and another person accompanied the blood-soaked Garzon Amo to a triage area where other injured people were waiting for emergency services to arrive.
"He told us that he wanted to die," Iglesias reportedly told Antena 3 TV. "He said he had needed to brake but couldn't."
The station showed a photo of Iglesias helping carry the driver after the accident Wednesday. It also aired footage of Iglesias helping other survivors.
The Guardian reports that several colleagues and neighbors of Garzon Amo have come forward to defend him. Eladio Rodríguez, regional head of the transport sector of the socialist General Workers' Union, said: "There have to be causes other than the alleged human error."
Juan Jesús García Fraile of the railway workers' union cautioned that without data from the black boxes, "we do not know what happened."
Possible delays in coordinating the rescue operation also are raising concerns. The daily El País said it had obtained reports compiled by the emergency services that showed it took two hours to declare the state of alert needed to mobilize help from other provinces.
The Guardian notes that "the inhabitants of the neighborhood of Angrois, where the crash took place, have been widely praised in Spain for their courageous response to the disaster. Without regard for their own safety, they poured on to the tracks, smashing in the windows of the carriages with rocks to pull out the injured, dead and dying."
But El Pais and other media are say those efforts may have been hampered by official delays. A mobile communications center, vital for coordinating the work of the rescue services, took 46 minutes to reach the scene, El País said. Authorities have pointed to speed as the culprit, and officials have said that the brakes should have been applied more than 2 miles before the train hit the curve. Investigators must determine whether Garzon Amo failed to apply the brakes or whether it was a technical failure.
Meanwhile, authorities said forensic experts have identified the last three bodies among the dead. They did not reveal the names of the dead but said Sunday that all of the families had been notified.
Mourning continued throughout Spain. Sunday church services were being held in remembrance of the dead.
A large funeral Mass is planned for Monday afternoon, and the prime minister and royal family are expected to attend.