Disasters · Indiana

Train plows into another after engineer falls asleep

June 22, 1918
Gary, Indiana
A train smashes into a slower circus train when an engineer falls asleep at the throttle

Two trains, a troop train normally used to shuttle soldiers and a circus train transporting approximately 400 performers, were moving in the same direction. The engineer of the troop train, Alonzo Sargent, had been up since 5 a.m. on June 21 transporting the train with no passengers or cargo. He also was aware he was unlikely to have a chance to eat for a full day and consumed two heavy meals in preparation. Because of the lack of sleep, heavy meals, and rhythmic sway of the train, Sargent fell asleep at the throttle.

The circus train ahead of the troop train made an emergency stop at approximately 4 a.m. Though automatic warning lights were lit, Sargent was unable to heed them. The troop train smashed into the circus train, demolishing the caboose and four sleeper cars at the rear of the train. Soon after, the cars caught fire. A total of 86 people died, most of whom were killed in the impact. A further 127 were injured.

Sargent was arrested and taken to trial where he stated the collision was an accident with no malice involved. His jury deadlocked on a verdict, resulting in a mistrial. Prosecutors declined to attempt a retrial and the charges against Sargent were dropped.

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