Dan Konzelman was driving with his girlfriend southbound on Interstate 5, south of Tacoma, Washington, Monday morning when, to his astonishment, he saw an Amtrak train go off an overpass ahead of him and crash onto the busy freeway.
While most of the stunned onlookers in nearby automobiles stayed in place, no doubt making 9-1-1 calls for help, Konzelman – an Eagle Scout – took a nearby exit and ran to the scene.
He and his girlfriend, Alicia Hoverson, found that first-responders had not yet arrived.
The two climbed into one of the train cars, noting only a few of the train cars were still on the track and the other eight or so had derailed, with one lodged on top of automobiles on the interstate.
“We went through the trains one at a time, made sure people were stable. If they could move, we got them out. Some of them couldn’t move. They had back or neck injuries, so we assigned people to stay with them and keep them calm. And then we worked our way down to the more serious injuries, where people were pinned underneath the trains that had flipped upside-down. And, unfortunately, there were some deceased.”
Konzelman estimated it was about 25 minutes before first responders arrived at the scene.
He said he and his girlfriend, and the firefighters who eventually arrived, were able to free some of the most seriously injured passengers after about 45 minutes.
Some, Konzelman said, had broken legs or ankles and most had head trauma.
He explained that in his Boy Scout training, he was taught “how to respond in these situations.”
“They teach you to stay calm and to talk to people, to calm them down and to be a peacemaker,” he said.
“I did my best, I did what they taught me in Boy Scouts, and I think I was able to help a lot of people.”
Konzelman said many of the passengers had difficulty breathing.
“We said, breathe slowly, you’re going to be OK. You’re walking on your two feet, we’re going to get you help, you look great.”
Some were in shock, he said, just sitting in their seats and staring.
One of the two KING-TV anchors asked Konzelman during the live interview what made him “run toward the scene.”
“Most people don’t do that,” she observed.
“I knew I could help,” Konzelman replied, “and I knew nobody else would; and I knew that if I was in that position, pinned underneath a train car, I would want somebody to come help me. I couldn’t not help.”
He said he and his girlfriend prayed with many of the injured and trapped passengers to comfort them and “let them know that God is with them.”
“In a situation like this, you feel pretty small, but when you realize God is in control, it’s really calming, and there’s a lot of peace in knowing that,” he said.
The anchor asked him what he specifically prayed, then, before Konzelman could respond, added that the question may be “too personal.”
“No,” he said, indicating he was comfortable answering her. “I prayed for God to just be in the situation. Some of the cars were suspended, and as the firefighters and police officers were working to remove people, I was fearful that they might shift and injure more people. So I was praying that God would stabilize the train cars and prevent any further injury.”
He said he also prayed “that God would give the people involved peace and comfort … and would just help us get these people out.”
“A lot of people were so thankful that we could be there to keep them calm and be with them and pray with them and give them God’s peace,” Konzelman said.
“That’s all I could do, and that’s what I was doing.”