Daniel Konzelman said he helped more than a dozen people escape the wrecked train cars, and then stayed to comfort victims who were pinned inside a train car that had flipped over.

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Daniel Konzelman was driving to work in Olympia with his girlfriend, Alicia Hoverson, when he noticed a train zipping by him. 

“I noticed it was going really fast. I’d never seen a train going that fast in the past. I drive that stretch every day,” he said. He was driving about 60 or 65 mph, he said. 

While the speed limit on the tracks is generally 79 mph, the speed limit on the curve where the derailment happened is 30 mph, Barbara LaBoe, a Washington Department of Transportation spokeswoman said. The tracks are owned by Sound Transit, which managed the recent track upgrade work under an agreement with WSDOT.

The tracks run parallel to Interstate 5 before curving over a bridge that crosses the highway.

Amtrak train derailment

As Konzelman approached the bridge, cars began slamming on their brakes. It was just after 7:30 a.m.

“I looked up and saw the train was hanging off,” Konzelman said. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this was major.'”

He pulled off the freeway, then ran onto the tracks leading to the rail bridge. He saw about five people climbing out of a train car on the bridge.

“There were two cars that had turned sideways on the bridge,” Konzelman said. “They (passengers) had broken out one of the emergency exit windows. They had blood streaming from their heads. A lot of them had hip or back injuries and respiratory troubles.”

Konzelman, who is an Eagle Scout and has had some first-aid training, said he and Hoverson ran up to help them down to the freeway.

Then, he went back up and climbed through the window of one of the train cars that remained on the bridge.

“There was a gentleman in there who couldn’t move and a lady with a head injury who was in shock,” he said. He stayed with them for a few minutes and calmed them down.

Once others were on the bridge, he ran down below to the freeway, where he met a police officer.

“He had a flashlight and I had a lamp,” he said. The two began to crawl through the train cars splayed out on the interstate’s surface “working them one at a time,” Konzelman said. No one had been inside the train cars yet, Konzelman said.

We found one of the train attendants. He couldn’t move. He was shivering and freezing from shock,” Konzelman said. The officer and Konzelman worked their way through four train cars, and helped about 15 people get out, he said. 

“A lot of them had broken ankles. I think they were in so much shock they couldn’t feel anything. Almost all of them had head injuries and a lot of blood flowing,” he said.

A fifth train car had flipped over. Konzelman said he and the officer punched through a window to get inside.

That’s where we found four fatalities in that train car. And there were three people pinned under the train,” he said. Another man was in shock, without shoes and covered in blood.

“He was walking around in circles,” Konzelman said. 

Konzelman went to attend to the people who were pinned.

“There’s not a lot you can do with somebody pinned beneath the train. I talked to them and tried to to calm them down and comfort them,” he said. 

“I just told him, man, you’re looking so good … you’re doing great, just relax. You might be here for a little while. Make yourself comfortable. … I rubbed his back and held his hand. I asked him what his kids’ names were and what his wife’s name was.”

Konzelman said most of the people in the final car who had survived were in shock when he first arrived.

“It was honestly eerily quiet. The people who were down below, a lot of them were unconscious initially. It wasn’t 20 minutes after the wreck when you heard people yelling and screaming who were injured,” he said. 

Konzelman said he was worried about the train cars dangling from above.

“Throughout the whole experience, I was asking the Lord to be in this situation … don’t let the train fall down on us,” he said. “Nothing shifted. Nobody was injured after the incident.”

Konzelman said he stayed with the people pinned for about 45 minutes, and then left when emergency responders extricated them.

Meantime, Hoverson “stayed with people and prayed with people and tried to keep them warm,” he said. 

Konzelman, an accountant who grew up in Puyallup and works in Olympia, credits his experience as a Boy Scout and his faith for directing his actions.

“I think it was all those Boy Scout camps I went to and the first aid merit badge, the lifesaving badge, that helped me know what to do,” he said. “I’m thankful for God who gave me the courage to go in there.”

T.J. Rodriguez, chief of the Steilacoom Department of Public Safety, who was among the first police and firefighters to arrive, said he came upon a “pretty shocking” scene.

“Not something you see every day,” Rodriguez said, explaining that he, along with a firefighter, helped get two people with back injuries out of the train before being told others might be trapped underneath cars.

He found a 20-year-old woman with cuts on her head pinned beneath a car, half in and half out, he said.

“She was very upset. That was to be expected,” Rodriguez said, calling it an “absolute miracle” that she, with his assistance, was able to free herself.

“She kept praying, which is what I would have been doing,” the chief said.

Rodriguez praised the combined work of bystanders who left their cars and emergency workers who quickly began helping people out of train cars and assisting the injured. He cited the efforts of a detective and sergeant from his department who also responded.

“This is not my typical Monday,” said Rodriguez, 46, who served 24 years in the Army and Army and Coast Guard reserves. He joined the Steilacoom department in 2003, working his way up the ranks. He has been chief for two years.

But it was the second derailment Rodriguez responded to this year.

In July, an Amtrak Cascades train ran a stop signal and was deflected into gravel near Chambers Bay along the Sound, causing some minor injuries.