First on the scene of the ACE train derailment Monday night was Manteca’s Anthony King – a deputy sheriff with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department.
King and his partner Justin Brannon used bolt cutters to sever a chain across the access road to the Union Pacific tracks a mile from the Sunol community – driving as near as possible to the one rail car in the water – and then running the final 200 yards to the crash scene.
The Manteca resident waded out into the water up to his knees within some 15 to 20 feet of the damaged ACE car. It was obvious to him – he said later – that he could not cross the raging creek that was up to its banks from the runoff of the recent rainstorms.
Deputy King said that in a way it was like being in the movies – akin to a ride at Universal Studios.
“Guys like Anthony King represent what’s good about law enforcement,” said his longtime supervisor Sgt. Ray Kelly. “He’s a good person.”
Sheriff’s spokesman Deputy J.D. Nelson said the deputies “did an amazing job when you factor in it was dark, damp, and a situation where they couldn’t see clearly and couldn’t step on windows of the overturned car — they had to calm everybody down. They were there before the fire department and relayed what was needed at the scene. Astounding.”
The deputies reached the partially submerged car where they heard the screams of the passengers.
Deputy King grew up in Manteca, played soccer all four years at Manteca High and joined the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department some eight years ago.
King and Brannon were riding double in their patrol car in the vicinity of the crash and responded immediately when they got the call. When they neared the train they noticed a 50 foot section of the hill had washed down over the tracks and into the creek snapping tree branches in its wake. The lead car was already down in Alameda Creek with swollen waters threatening any immediate rescue.
King recalled that the smell of Eucalyptus was so intense it was hard to breathe after running down the right-of-way where four cars remained on the tracks. The deputies said they were confronted with shaking and stunned passengers who shined flashlights toward the front of the car saying there were people trapped inside and possibly under water from the creek.
King added that he and his partner weren’t sure there weren’t others in the water and they had to find the best way to approach the coach that had turned over onto its side. The lead car had slid off the siding and sloped off the embankment. The two officers were finally able to open the access door and work their way into the partly submerged car.
Deputy King said they wanted to get the passengers and train personnel out of the car as soon as possible because the stability of the car was in question and they didn’t want to see it swept off into the fast moving current.
The deputies located four people including two with serious injuries where two passengers were caring for them. The front section of the car was completely submerged while the remainder of the interior was mostly flooded with cold creek water running in and out of broken windows, they said.
An Alameda County firefighter worked his way into the passenger car and began treating the victims near the end of the car that was out of the water. One man suffering from a head injury was able to walk under his own power, King said. A woman with an obvious neck injury had to be placed on a back board before she was extricated and taken to a waiting ambulance. All in all there were 14 injured from serious to moderate.
ACE Train spokesman Steve Kelly said the damaged car had been removed from the creek and was taken back to Stockton Wednesday afternoon for repairs. He said it took four to five hours with a speed limit set at 20 miles an hour.
Kelly said that all but one of the victims had been released from the hospital by Wednesday afternoon and were recovering at home from their injuries.
ACE is reportedly using sensors on their cars in the future that would tell them if anything is blocking the tracks.