Story - 15 Killed in DUR Streetcar Collision with DT&I train in Delray - 1915

Fort Electric Splintered by D.T.I. Freight

Student Motorman and Instructor Held for Manslaughter After Delray Crossing Crash.

Dear and Injured strewn along tracks; Only seven identified.

Fort Street Electric is Carried 200 feet by Backing Box Car at Dearborn Avenue Crossing

Trapped in a Fort Street-River Rouge car handled by a novice motorman, 15 persons, 11 of them women, were ground to death under the trucks of a freight train of the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton railroad Wednesday afternoon at 5:15 o'clock at the crossing on West Jefferson avenue, near Dearborn avenue.

In Solvay Hospital early this morning 26 mangled and broken passengers from the wrecked car were suffering from injuries, and three of them were not expected to live until daylight. Eight of the dead have been identified - four of them men and four women. In the county morgue seven mangled bodies of women and girls still lie unidentified.

At midnight, Wednesday, J. C. Westover, apprentice motorman who was in charge of the car at the time, and Richard Vallade, his instructor, were locked up in the central police station on charges of manslaughter, following a grilling of the car and train crews and the crossing tenders by Coroner Burgess, Prosecutor Jasnowski and Assistant Prosecutor Keldan.

Half an hour after the fatal crash, Railway Commissioner Charles S. Cunningham was speeding toward Detroit from Lansing in an automobile to conduct an investigation of the wreck, together with the local police and the county authorities.

No statement as to the cause of the accident was issued Wednesday night by the Detroit United Railway, other than that of Harry B. Bullen, superintendent of the company, who said he understood that the derailer at the crossing had been out of order for some time.

"If the derailer had worked this terrible accident would have been averted," said Mr. Butten.

Otis Conain, chief of the repairmen of the D.T.&I. road, said the derailer had been out of commission for more than a year, and that repair work was started recently, but was delayed because some parts were being made.

Following the questioning of the car men at headquarters Wednesday night the statement was given out that the accident was due to the failure of Motorman Westover to see the "stop" signal of the conductor. The conductor said that he had signalled to "come ahead" while the car was still standing, but that when he saw the proximity of the train he reversed the signal.

The car was crushed under the trucks of the forward freight car of a train of 25 loaded with soda ash and pig iron which was being pushed north from Zug Island. The train, according to crew members was travelling at a rate of four and a half miles an hour.

Oncoming Train Seen by All Passengers in Car

With the car standing near the crossing while the conductor went on ahead to make sure of a clear track, the motorman had an unobstructed view and could easily see the train as it backed over the River Rouge bridge. Every passenger on the south side of the car could see the oncoming train.

Then a thrill of horror ran through the passengers as they felt their car move forward into the path of the train. Many sat transfixed as the forward freight car bore down upon them while others shrieked and tried to fight their way out of the vestibules.

With a crash the train struck the car squarely in the middle and swept it to the side of West Jefferson avenue. The motorman jumped and several men on the rear platform escaped by leaping.

The freight carried the car upright, with its cargo of screaming fighting men and women struggling to escape; and crushed the corner of the Delray railroad station with one end of the car and the candy store of O. Climer, 2382 West Jefferson avenue, with the other. Several electric light poles came down at the same time.

Twenty feet farther on the car dropped upon its side in front of the freight car, and then began the horrible grinding and crushing of human bodies in the tangled steel and wood of the car, which ended 200 feet from the crossing.

Woman Hurled Over Railway Station Roof

The roof of the car was catapulted upward and fell to the east of the tracks, and almost at the same instant a woman was hurled form the center of the car through the air completely over the roof of the railway station.

Strewn along the tracks were human limbs and bits of flesh and when the bodies were taken from the wreckage they were hurried to the morgue horribly mutilated. Upon the roof of one of the freight cars at least 40 feet from the grinding trucks of the end car, a human hand was discovered by a brakeman, and under the truck of the freight car was found a human foot.

Alfred Fitzgerald, a passenger on the car immediately following the one demolished, said he believed there were between 40 and 45 persons in the car when the crash came. Several of those injured were taken to their homes in Delray and River Rouge by friends, their hurts being slight. The register showed 122 fares collected during the trip.

The cause of the wreck will be determined by a coroner's jury, the prosecutor, and an investigation which was begun by Railway Commissioner Cunningham Wednesday night. The members of the car and train crews, the flagman and the switchman at the crossing were taken to police headquarters and made statements before the Coroner, Prosecutor, Assistant Prosecutor and the police.

The men detained were J. C. Westover, 94 Romeyn street, student motorman, in actual charge of the wrecked car; Richard Vallade, motorman, 9 James street, River Rouge, Westover's instructor, and with him in the forward vestibule; Conductor George Assam, 329 Artillery avenue; William H. Taylor, 288 Dearborn avenue, conductor of the freight train; Engineer C. H. Augustus, of Napoleon, O; Fred J. Sutton, 158 Vanderbilt avenue, flagman at the fatal crossing, and Bert Johnson, 2350 West Jefferson avenue, switchman.

Employees Agree in Majority of Details

The story of the men agreed in the principal details:

The car stopped just before reaching the crossing, a man and woman got off, and conductor Assam went ahead to "run the crossing." He saw an engine backing 25 loaded cars north across the River Rouge bridge. Gateman Fred J. Sutton, of 166 Vanderbilt Ave., also saw the approaching train and both waved the car back. The gate man, according to instructions, was standing in the center of the car track, signaling the car not to cross.

The conductor and gate man were exchanging greetings when they heard a startling sound. It was the release of the streetcar's brakes. The car lurched forward; then stopped, or almost stopped. Again it started forward. The men in the vestibule were seen working frantically at the brakes.

The car slid onto the crossing and stopped. The two motor men leaped off, the police said. Conductor Taylor, who was on the front car of the train, started to signal his engineer. The switchman in the tower at the corner, seeing the impending catastrophe, shouted to the motor man, but almost at the same instant the swift moving freight train tore into the electric car.

Patrolman Thomas Creedon, passing in an automobile, was the first on the scene and he flashed the news of the wreck to headquarters and patrols were dispatched immediately and more came shortly afterwards.

Inspector Marquardt ordered Detective Donovan to detain the crews of the train and car. The car crew members were found at the Clark Avenue barn and the train crew was still at the scene of the accident.

The police telephoned a report of the collision to the men of truck company 13, on Fort Street near Lawrence Street, and the firemen hastened to the crossing to aid in.

The work of raising the wrecked railroad car, the firemen and crew of the wrecker brought the crushed and mangled bodies out and, placing them along the track, covered them with curtains from the car, bags and fire department canvas.

When the first report of the wreck reached Solvay Hospital, Dr. Andrew R. Hackett, head of the staff there, telephoned to the main branch of Harper Hospital in Detroit and a number of expert physicians and surgeons were rushed to the Delray branch in automobiles. This quick action facilitated the relief work, and the corps of doctors was sufficient to care for all the injured as they were brought in.

Arriving on the scene of the wreck three minutes after it occurred, John Burguson, a deputy sheriff, assisted the Solvay doctors in caring for the wounded and carried five wounded persons to Solvay hospital in his motorcar.

"Six lifeless bodies were scattered about the track when William Hoagie, of Spring Wells, and myself arrived on the scene in an automobile," said Bergeson." The distance at which the dead and wounded lay from the car testified to the force of the collision."

Coroner Burgess arrived an hour after the wreck. Shortly afterwards Prosecutor Jasnowski and Assistant Prosecutor Harry Keidan viewed the scene.

"It was a terrible sight. The worst that in my seven years of services as Coroner I have ever been called upon to view," said Dr. Burgess. Mr. Jasnowski ordered Mr. Keidan to go to headquarters to take the statements of the train crews.

Superintendent Edward Dowling, of the D.T. & I. railroad, came to the crossing shortly after the wreck, and directed the work of clearing away the wreckage so that the bodies still pinned beneath could be recovered. Many undertakers volunteered their services, and loaned their wagons to help carry the bodies to the morgue.

By 9:30 o'clock a morbid crowd had gathered around the door of the mogue, and a stream of fearful visitors past the row of slabs trying to identify among the mangled corpses of a relative or friend missing since the wreck.

Wednesday's accident was the worst grade crossing collision in the history of Detroit, and the second crash between a train and a streetcar this year. On February 2 motor man John A. Affelt, of 873 Garfield Ave., was killed when his crosstown car was struck by a Grand Trunk engine at Forest Avenue and Dequindre street. William Lang, of 50 Sylvester St., a watchmen for the Grand Trunk Railway at the crossing was struck down in attempting to prevent the collision. He received injuries to his back which resulted fatally on March 31. Six passengers were injured in the accident.

The accident was also the second disaster in Delray within a year. In May, 1914, a terrific explosion destroyed the plant of the Mexican Crude Rubber company, causing the deaths of 10 men.

Bereaved and Morbid Alike at County Morgue

Anxious relatives besieged the county morgue in person and by telephone all Wednesday night in an effort to find their kin amid the shapeless mass of bones and flesh that remained of 14 men and women.

Among the first call at the morgue was John George, father of Gail George, the pretty blonde teacher of the Redford, Michigan, school. He had been told that his daughter's pocketbook had been pried from the wreckage.

"She isn't here," he said to the morgue attendants after he had passed down between the row of the sheeted slabs."I cannot find her. None of these things can be my little Gail."

He would have turned away but was asked to look again. Then he found his daughter's body, identifying it by a scar on one toe and also by a bent and buttered ring upon her finger. The clothes were so torn and the rest of the body so mutilated that further identification was impossible.

John Salmoni, son of Thomas W Salmoni, came in a little later and identified one of the shapeless bundles of flesh as his father. The parent, he said, was employed as an engineer at the salt works in River Rouge and was on his way to work there.

"There are eight children," he said." And most of them are still little ones. Then, too, we are expecting another."

A crowd of morbid men and boys stood around the entrance to the morgue most of Wednesday night, while inside loitered a crowd of politicians.

After 13 bodies had been received at the morgue it was locked for the night. Coroner's clerk De Laurier went to his office on the main floor of the County building and prepared for an all-night vigil. The crowd dispersed and calmness came from trucks in rescuing the injured, and in clearing away the wreckage.

Firemen and wrecking crew risk own lives

Risking their own lives under the demolished blood dripping car is jacked up by a wrecker belonging to the Wabash over the place. Outside two policemen watched the entrance.

First Word of Disaster Sent to Solvay Hospital

Even before the news of the wreck was flashed to the police the call went into the Solvay branch of Harper Hospital about a mile east of the scene.

"40 people killed," came the call over the phone, and the ambulance from the hospital carrying Dr. Samuel J. Eder and Dr. L. T. O'Brien, streaked out W. Jefferson Ave. to the wreck.

"It seemed as if we were the first ones on the spot," said Dr. Eder late Wednesday night, during a low in the seemingly endless dressing of lacerated limbs and bodies. "Dead and injured were strewn all along the railroad track from the street back to the mass of twisted wreckage that was the remains of the car.

"Several were sitting up and crying for aid while others lay groaning on the ground. From the wreckage protruded arms and legs, while clothing and headgear were scattered about. Dr. O'Brien and myself knelt by the fallen ones and felt their pulses and hearts. We found two dead. Then we bandaged a few of the worst cuts and piled our ambulance full. By that time the police automobiles were on the scene and we loaded the rest into them.

"Just about that time I awoke to the fact that we had sent about 20 injured to a hospital that was tenanted only by nurses. I called the policeman and asked him to have a patrol take us back to the hospital. I can't tell you about the scene back here. It was too horrible. It hauls even on a physician."

Late in the evening several of the less seriously injured of the wreck victims were transferred from the Solvay branch to the main unit of Harper Hospital.

Priest Works in Debris Amid Dying and Injured

One of the first to reach the track was Rev. Joseph F. Utas, assistant pastor of St. John Cantius church, who administered the last sacrament to those whose injuries appeared to be fatal. The priest worked in the bloody wreckage with the firemen and railroad men cheering the injured and administering to the dying. One woman, taken from under the truck of a freight car, screamed hysterically a few minutes and tried to speak, but died while being carried to an ambulance.

Father Utas and Father Glemet, pastor of the Church of Our Lady of Lojurds, River Rouge, remained at the hospital many hours with the injured, most of whom were members of the two parishes. Rev. John Walczak, pastor of St. John Cantius church, was ill and could not leave the rectory, but many of the bereaved members came to him for consolation during the night.

Working shoulder to shoulder with the man in the wreckage for nearly an hour was 16-year-old Dorothy Kaslow, who, seeing the crash, ran to her home at 2354 West Jefferson Ave., told her mother to notify the police and returned to the crossing with a bucket of water to aid the injured. She carried water for the physicians while the wreckage was being cleared away and called several of her girlfriends to aid in the same work.

Coin Box Recovered from Wreck Before the Dead

Money counts even amid death.

Before the bodies of the wreck victims had been pried from the wreckage, and while the rescuers worked frantically to lift the mass of iron and wood from the mangled bodies, two men with crowbars attacked another portion of the wrecked car.

After a half hours hard toil, they uncovered the object of their search. It was not a body, however.

It was the pay as you enter coin box.

State and County Officials Start Probe of Disaster

State and county officials will probe to the bottom of the railroad disaster in an effort to fix the responsibility for the death of 14 persons and the maiming of 27 others. Coroner James E Burgess arrived at the scene of the accident less than an hour after the crash and he was followed a few minutes later by Prosecuting Attorney Jusnowski. About the same time state railroad commissioner James V Cunningham left Lansing in a high powered automobile for Detroit. He was apprised of the wreck by telephone and started at once to take part in the investigation.

Before midnight Wednesday Corner Burgess had impaneled a jury which will view the bodies of the victims Thursday morning. "This will be investigated until the end" said Prosecutor Jusnowski, "and the guilty parties will be held for trial. It is the most horrible thing I have ever witnessed."

After staying at the wreck until the last body had been removed and interviewing several eyewitnesses of the catastrophe, the prosecutor went to the Solvay branch of Harper Hospital and sent for a stenographer. He took several statements from the more seriously injured.