Dr. Nathan Selden was among those who stopped to help emergency responders triage victims of the Monday derailment, including a baby pulled from the wreckage. The baby, who seemed unhurt, was ticklish, giggling and smiling.
With Amtrak train cars dangling from a bridge above, soldiers, an Eagle Scout and even a neurosurgeon materialized amid Monday’s train crash to pull people from the gnarled metal wreckage, help with triage and provide comfort to victims whose lives were suddenly twisted and tossed into chaos.
Detective Chris Bailey, of the Steilacoom Public Safety Department, said nurses and doctors rushed from personal vehicles to help, men and women in business attire appearing with latex gloves or stethoscopes.
Witness Greg Mukai saw a half-dozen soldiers rushing from vehicles into the fray just after the crash, asking motorists for first-aid equipment. Bailey saw a soldier climb up a train car that was dangling from the bridge to help people get out.
“Everyone did an amazing job,” Bailey said.
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Daniel Konzelman was on southbound Interstate 5 heading to work in Olympia Monday morning with his girlfriend, Alicia Hoverson, when drivers in front of their vehicle started slamming on their brakes as he approached the bridge. 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, and the couple joined dozens of other passers-by, soldiers and emergency workers who rushed into and among the crumpled Amtrak cars sprawled on I-5, pulling people from the debris, bandaging the wounded and comforting pinned victims of the devastating derailment.
After parking, Konzelman, 24, ran onto the tracks. He saw about five people climbing out of a train car on the bridge.
Two train cars were on their side, and he said 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 accountant and Eagle Scout who has had some first-aid training, said he and Hoverson helped victims down to the freeway.
Then, he went back up and climbed through a window into a rail car.
“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.
As others arrived to help, he ran back to the freeway and — along with a police officer — began to crawl through the train cars splayed out on the interstate, “working them one at a time.”
“We found one of the train attendants. He couldn’t move. He was shivering and freezing from shock,” said Konzelman, of Puyallup. He worked his way through four train cars, and helped about 15 people get out, he said.
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“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.
Detective Bailey was one of the first officials on the scene. He helped some people who had already freed themselves from train cars, then headed to the locomotive.
“I was actually rather surprised to see the conductor and engineer were safe,” Bailey said. “There was significant damage to the engine.”
He said both appeared to be disoriented.
After that, Bailey helped pull a man from a silver pickup on I-5 that was crushed beneath a train car. “He was awake and alert and conscious.”
Bailey helped a team of firefighters erect a ladder to one of the cars hanging from the side of the rail bridge.
Some victims were able to shuffle down the ladder, and others were pulled out on backboards, he said.
In the train car dangling nearest the freeway, Bailey found a woman who wouldn’t leave the train because two relatives — a man and an infant — were trapped in the restroom. Responders pulled them out, and while the man and the baby appeared to be dazed, they didn’t have any visible injuries, he said.
A Portland neurosurgeon, Dr. Nathan Selden, may have treated the baby. He was traveling to Seattle with his 18-year-old son, Ryan; they pulled over when they neared the crash.
Selden joined a radiologist from a nearby military hospital and a nurse from a local medical center in triaging a few dozen victims on the median between the north and southbound lanes of I-5.
He said he cared for “one little baby we learned who had flown around inside the (train) car and was barely held onto by parents rolling around in the car.”
The baby appeared unharmed and was ticklish, giggling and smiling in Selden’s care.
“We had a couple uplifting moments,” Selden said. Mostly, though, it was difficult.
“There were patients with … lacerations on their skulls, probably skull fractures, obvious leg and arm fractures and one patient with a pretty bad pelvic fracture,” he said. Others suffered from neck and back strains and had been cut by glass.
“These people are profoundly impacted, and I worry a lot about what they’re facing in the next days and weeks,” he said.
Selden praised the first responders’ professionalism, and he said he was impressed by their skill, focus and compassion under duress.
“It was very hard to concentrate at times because of the enormity of the crash and number of people affected,” he said. “But like the people around me, I just wanted to focus on one person at a time.”
At times during rescues, Konzelman might have been working alongside Bailey, who remembers seeing someone matching Konzelman’s description, wearing a headlamp and helping officers.
After working through several train cars, Bailey arrived at a final car, which had been overturned in the wreck. He described the scene as bloody and difficult.
Bailey said there were casualties — a few people had been ejected from the train and several others were pinned.
“We were able to pull a few survivors from that vehicle … we brought the Jaws of Life,” he said, referring to hydraulic rescue tools typically used to extricate people in car wrecks.
Konzelman went to help 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 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.”
Konzelman said he stayed with the people pinned for about 45 minutes, and then left when emergency responders pulled them free.
Meantime, Hoverson “stayed with people and prayed with people and tried to keep them warm,” he said.
Konzelman 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 also among the first police and firefighters to arrive, said the crash made for 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, 46, served 24 years in the Army and the Army and Coast Guard reserves before joining the Steilacoom department in 2003 and working his way up the ranks. He has been chief for two years.
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 Puget Sound, causing some minor injuries.
Bailey said he was among a group of law-enforcement officers who last week had taken a class dealing with train derailments.
“Coincidentally, we had just went through a training course the week before with both Amtrak and BNSF (Railway Company). There were quite a few of us on-scene who were very knowledgeable about what we were doing.”