• Spain's news in English

Friends defend 'excellent professional' crash driver

AFP · 28 Jul 2013, 10:19

Published: 28 Jul 2013 10:19 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Some paint him as a reckless man who boasted about driving his Spanish trains at massive speed, before crashing one, leaving 78 people dead and 178 injured.

Francisco Jose Garzon Amo's friends and neighbours tell a different story.

The grey-haired driver has not appeared in public since he was helped to stagger, with blood pouring down his face, away from the wreck near the northwestern city of Santiago de Compostela on Wednesday night.

But, detained by the police, he has become the focus of speculation as a nation in mourning seeks to explain what caused its worst train disaster in nearly 70 years.

"He is an excellent professional. It is the first accident he has ever had," said Antonio Rodriguez, who joined the state rail company Renfe alongside Garzon in 1982.

The two started out as young auxiliary workers refuelling the trains in Monforte de Lemos, a small town in a green valley an hour and half's drive from Santiago.

Rodriguez is now the Galicia region railway workers' leader of the UGT, Spain's biggest labour union, and one of the relatively few individuals to defend Garzon publicly as authorities investigate.

"He has never been sanctioned in all the time he has worked since 1982," Rodriguez told AFP by telephone, his voice weary after days trying to contact his friend.

Media have widely cited a post the driver reportedly made on his Facebook page -- since taken offline -- with a photograph of a speed dial in a train showing 200 kilometres an hour (124 miles per hour).

Along with comments he reportedly made by radio immediately before the crash, the Facebook post has painted a compromising picture of Garzon.

El Pais newspaper cited sources in the investigation saying he told controllers that the train was going at 190 kilometres per hour. The curving stretch of track where it hurtled off the rails had a speed limit of 80 kph.

Newspapers have also quoted him as telling a control centre immediately after the accident: "I hope no one died because it will weigh on my conscience."

Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz said Saturday that Garzon was suspected of "reckless homicide".

Police said the driver refused to answer their questions in hospital and that it was now for the judges to decide whether to bring charges.

Garzon was discharged from hospital on Saturday and taken to a police station. He was due to appear before a judge on Sunday who will decide whether
to press formal charges, the interior minister said.

The head of the state firm ADIF which runs Spain's railway infrastructure, Gonzalo Ferre, has cast the blame directly on Garzon, saying he should have braked well before the bend outside Santiago.

That part of the track was not equipped, as many high-speed lines are, with the latest braking technology that would slow the train down automatically if the driver failed to so when required.

In the train station of Montforte de Lemos, workers shook their heads,grim-faced, when asked about Garzon. "All we can say about him are good things," said one person who knew the driver.

Story continues below…

"It is a shame the things some people have said. But we cannot say anything," for fear of being misrepresented, he told AFP.

Garzon became a fully qualified driver in 2003. In the process, he left Montforte and worked out of several other cities before moving back to Galicia in 2011, to A Coruna, to look after his ageing mother, Rodriguez said.

Locals defended Garzon against unfavourable media speculation.

"People here are keeping quiet about it because it is a very delicate topic. But since he was born here, we are his defenders," said Jesus Asper, 54, sitting in the waiting room at Monforte station.

"Before becoming a train driver, he was an auxiliary labourer here. People say he was very responsible and very competent," he said, as he sat exchanging
theories about the crash with his friend Luis, 80.

"People want a spectacle. When something like this happens, they want someone to feed on."

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Spain worries about tourism future
Photo: Josep Lago / AFP file picture

After basking in its best tourist summer season in 15 years, Spain now sees dark clouds on the horizon as popular destinations reach saturation point and holidaymakers are more thrifty, industry experts say.

Spain’s Socialists lift veto on conservatives
The Socialists have decided to lift their veto on the minority conservative government or not. Photo: Gerard Julien/ AFP

Spain's embattled Socialists on Sunday voted to lift a long-standing veto that has prevented the conservatives from forming a minority government, in what should finally end a ten-month political impasse.

Spain's 'Napflix' aims to bore viewers to sleep
Photo: Screengrab/ Napflix

A Spanish video platform called Napflix, designed to put people to sleep with dull content, was launched this week and its founders are on the lookout for more "monotony and repetition."

Recipe: How to make fabada - traditional Asturian bean stew
Photo: Flavio Lorenzo Sánchez/Flickr

The hearty Asturian dish is a perfect lunch on a cold day... and don't forget the crusty bread and cider!

Brit 'paedo' held on Costa del Sol after Most Wanted appeal

One of Britain's most wanted fugitives was arrested on the Costa Del Sol following a tip-off from an expat just hours after his face appeared on a public appeal.

Spain's parliament approves deficit reduction measures
Photo: Images Money/Flickr

Spanish lawmakers approved on Thursday measures to reduce the public deficit and keep it under the target agreed with the European Union.

'Cubism and War' show opens at Barcelona Picasso Museum
Pablo Picasso Harlequin and Woman with a Necklace. Photo: MP

Barcelona's Picasso Museum unveiled an exhibition on "Cubism and War" on Thursday depicting how one of the most influential artistic styles of the 20th century survived the First World War.

Why this bionic limb pioneer doesn't believe in disability
Hugh Herr has been award Spain's top science prize. Photo: FPA

The Local speaks to Hugh Herr on winning Spain's top science prize and how being an amputee doesn't make him disabled.

Dine in the buff at Spain's first nudist restaurant
A buffet of organic food will be served on "human tables". Photo: Innato / Facebook

Spain's first naked dining experience is to arrive on the island of Tenerife following the success of a similar venture in London.

Spain's top court overturns bullfighting ban in Catalonia
Photo: AFP

Spain's Constitutional Court on Thursday cancelled a bullfighting ban in Catalonia in what is likely to exacerbate tensions between Madrid and the separatist region, and between animal activists and fans of the tradition.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Madrid parish church faces fine over 'too noisy' bells
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Celebrate expat life at Madrid’s THRIVE convention
Fury after kids told to bring their own loo roll to school
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Disney announces plans for Don Quixote action movie
Activist tells 8-yr-old matador wannabe with cancer 'just die'
King to make last minute push to avoid third vote in Spain
Amazing photos of Catalonia's 'human tower' contest
What's on in Spain: October 2016
'No way, Jose! You'll never get your hands on our Rock'
Recipe: How to make a classic Spanish tortilla de patatas
Chorizo in paella? Go back to cooking school Jamie Oliver
Spain in eye of a perfect storm after 10 months without govt
Thousands share clips of life for 'Spain in a Day' film
Ten incredible Spain locations for Game of Thrones season 7
Analysis & Opinion
Why moving to Spain could be the best decision of your life
Seven reasons why autumn is the very best season in Spain
Spanish study finds four types of personality. Which are you?
New search underway for civil war grave of poet Lorca
Bison found decapitated on Valencia nature reserve
Forgotten Voices: What Brits in Spain think about Brexit
One dead and 14 injured in blast at Spanish resort
Game of Thrones want extras 'with muscles' to film in Spain
Thousands march in Madrid to push for bullfighting ban
jobs available