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NTSB: Warning signals activated before vets' float pulled onto train tracks

James Durbin / AP

People gather in Centennial Plaza in Midland, Texas, on Saturday for a candlelight vigil held in honor of four veterans who were killed when a freight train hit a parade float.

MIDLAND, Texas -- Warning signals at a railroad crossing activated before a parade float pulled in front of an oncoming train and the resulting crash killed four veterans, federal investigators said Saturday.

National Transportation Safety Board member Mark Rosekind said at a news conference that the warning signals were activated before the float pulled onto the track.

The train slammed into the flatbed trailer carrying veterans and their spouses during a parade in their honor on Thursday, killing four vets and injuring 16 people injured. Hundreds attended a vigil in Midland Saturday night for the victims.

Rosekind gave this timeline of the crash, The Associated Press said, based on review of video from the train and a sheriff's vehicle that was behind the trailer:

  • 20 seconds before collision: Bells and lights activated as first tractor trailer is safely crossing the tracks
  • 13 seconds before: Gates start to descend
  • 12 seconds before: Front of the second tractor trailer starts crossing in front of the train
  • 9 seconds before: Train starts sounding its horn
  • 5 seconds before: Train engineer uses emergency brake

The collision killed Marine Chief Warrant Officer 3 Gary Stouffer, 37; Army Sgt. Maj. Lawrence Boivin, 47; Army Sgt. Joshua Michael, 34; and Army Sgt. Maj. William Lubbers, 43.

Investigators on Monday will conduct a "sight distance test" to understand what the train engineer and the driver of the truck that was struck might have seen before the collision, Rosekind said.

"You know there was a lot of activity going on with other noises going on," Rosekind said.

Uncredited / AP

Undated family photos. From left: Sgt. Maj. Gary Stouffer; Sgt. Maj. Lawrence Boivin; Army Sgt. Joshua Michael, and Sgt. Maj. William Lubbers.

Robert Accetta, lead NTSB investigator on the crash, said his team had not yet interviewed the driver. "We don't know what the driver may or may not have seen," he said.

NTSB officials declined to identify the driver or the company that owned the truck.

The crash in Midland occurred during a "Show of Support" parade that was to kick off a weekend of events to salute U.S. veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some veterans and their spouses aboard the float jumped off to escape the collision in the seconds before it happened.

Pam Shoemaker, who was riding in the float that crossed the tracks ahead of the one that was struck, said earlier this week she saw a railroad crossing bar come down just before the crash.

This article includes reporting by NBC News staff and Reuters.

Four people were killed and 17 injured when a flatbed trailer carrying twelve veterans and their spouses during a Midland, Texas, parade was hit by freight train as it was crossing over railroad tracks. NBC's Janet Shamlian reports.

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