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Man charged in deadly Greece train crash

By Sarah May
|
March 6, 2023

A devastating train crash in Greece last week that left at least 57 dead has now resulted in criminal charges that include negligent homicide being leveled against a 59-year-old stationmaster on duty at the time of the accident, as the Associated Press reports.

The incident ranks as the deadliest railway disaster in the history of Greece, and it has already prompted the resignation of a top government official as well as official apologies from Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis

Catastrophic error alleged

The aforementioned criminal charges stem from a violent collision that took place north of the central Greek city of Larissa last week.

The stationmaster is accused of sending a northbound passenger train and a southbound freight train onto the same track, a mistake that produced a staggering number of fatalities that included a large number of teenagers and young adults returning from the pre-Lent Carnival festivities.

Following hours of testimony provided by the stationmaster on Sunday, an examining magistrate and prosecutor determined that numerous charges on counts of homicide, causing bodily harm, and endangering transportation safety were warranted, and the accused was then held in custody.

A lawyer for the stationmaster explained to reporters after the fact, “My client testified truthfully, without fearing if doing so would incriminate him. The decision [to keep him in jail] was expected, given the importance of the case,” but added that there may be others who share in culpability for what happened and that perhaps more than one stationmaster should have been assigned to the area at the time of the incident.

Turmoil at the top

In the hours following the horrific train crash, Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis tendered his resignation, declaring it to be his “duty” and a “basic indication of respect for the memory of the people who died so unfairly,” as the AP noted separately.

Giorgos Gerapetritis, the newly appointed transport minister, took the reins Thursday and said his mission was to probe the devastating crash, modernize the country's railways, and restore faith in the system's safety, as Reuters reported.

Acknowledging the uphill battle he has ahead of him, Gerapetritis said, “It is a very heavy responsibility. We are going through days that are truly dark for our country.”

That fact was punctuated by a strike day initiated by rail unions in the aftermath of the crash in protest of what workers claim is a repeated refusal by the government to listen to their safety concerns and demands for improved standards.

Horrific scene recounted

Following the collision, rescuers swarmed the train's wreckage, digging through what the AP described as “flattened, burned-out carriages.

Vassilis Varthakoyiannis, a spokesperson for the fire service, explained, “Temperatures reached 1,300 degrees Celsius [2,372 Fahrenheit], which makes it even more difficult to identify the people who were in it.”

Survivors also recalled the manner in which the impact of the crash sent passengers flying through train car windows, with rescuers reporting that some of the victims were located over one hundred feet away from the site.

Recovery teams were forced to use heavy machinery to shift large pieces of the wreckage, a process that, according to the AP, revealed “more bodies and dismembered remains.”

Government promises answers

During a personal visit to the crash site, Prime Minister Mitsotakis pledged the government's full assistance in identifying those killed and helping injury victims in their recovery process.

“I can guarantee one thing: We will find out the causes of this tragedy and we will do all that's in our power so that something like this never happens again,” Mitsotakis declared, as the AP further noted.

Those sentiments were echoed by Karamanlis, who promised that governmental authorities would conduct their probe “in all seriousness and complete transparency” all factors leading up to the crash.

“We will do everything to investigate the causes and won't leave anything to be swept under the carpet,” Karamanlis added, and it appears that the railroad unions and the frustrated people of Greece will insist on nothing less.