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Train driver admits to lapse of concentration

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Train driver admits to lapse of concentration
A man takes a picture of the locomotive of the train that crashed near Santiago de Compostela on July 27th killing 79 people. Photo: Rafa Rivas/AFP
08:59 CEST+02:00
The driver of a train that crashed near the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela on July 24th admitted before a judge on Monday that he was confused and didn't know what section of track he was on.
Francisco Jose Garzon Amo, 52, admitted to the judge he had a "lapse" of concentration while driving the train, Spanish media reported on Monday, citing court sources.
 
El Pais newspaper, citing investigation sources, reported that Garzon had told railway officials by radio that the train had taken the curve at 190 kph (118mph).
 
The driver was charged on Sunday with 79 counts of reckless homicide and released on bail after being questioned by the judge.
 
The judge ordered him to report to court every week and forbade him from leaving Spain for six months, the High Court of Galicia, which is leading the investigation, said in a statement.
 
He also banned him from driving trains for six months.
 
Police detained Garzon Amo on Thursday, a day after what is Spain's deadliest rail disaster in decades, on suspicion of reckless homicide.
 
He was still in hospital recovering from a light head injury he suffered in the crash.
 
On Sunday, a police car delivered him in handcuffs to the courthouse for the closed hearing. He had spent the previous night in a police cell.
 
Garzon Amo was dressed in a blue shirt and a scar was visible from his injury.
 
Just hours before the court hearing began regional health officials said a woman critically injured in the crash had died in hospital, bringing the toll to 79.
 
The latest victim was a US national, the Galician High Court said, bringing to nine the total number of foreigners who died.
 
Flowers and candles were placed at the gates of the city's cathedral, a year-round destination for Roman Catholic pilgrims, which will host a memorial service for the victims on Monday.
 
Mourners gathered for a memorial service on Monday for the 79 people killed in Spain's worst train disaster in decades, after the driver was charged with reckless homicide.
 
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who was born in Santiago de Compostela, and Crown Prince Felipe are scheduled to attend the service.

"We are really feeling the impact. People are praying. It is a great tragedy," said 70-year-old Marlen de Francisco, who sells souvenirs in the cathedral square.

"All day people are asking me for note paper so they can write messages and put them on the cathedral gates.

The president of the Spanish rail network administrator ADIF, Gonzalo Ferre, said Garzon had been warned to start slowing the train "four kilometres before the accident happened".

A resident who rushed to the scene said in a television interview broadcast Sunday that the driver told him minutes after the crash he had been unable to brake.

"He said he had to brake to 80 and couldn't, that he was going fast," Evaristo Iglesias told Antena 3. Along with another man, he said, he had accompanied the driver to a stretch of flat land where other injured people were being laid out after the accident.

"He kept saying 'I want to die! I want to die! I don't want to see this!".    

State railway company Renfe said the driver had been with the firm for 30 years, including 13 years as a driver, and had driven trains past the spot of the accident 60 times.

El Mundo newspaper on Sunday printed extracts from the train's route plan, indicating that ahead of the bend the train passed from a stretch of track with a speed limit of 220kph to one with a limit of 80kph.

The newspaper said it was "surprising" that it was left entirely up to the driver exactly when to brake as the train entered the curve.

Some media reports described Garzon Amo as a speed freak who had once posted a picture on his Facebook page of a train speedometer at 200 kph.

Renfe said the train had no technical problems and had just passed an inspection on the morning of the accident.

But the secretary general of Spain's train drivers' union, Juan Jesus Garcia Fraile, told public radio the track was not equipped with braking technology to slow the train down automatically if the driver failed to do so when required.

Many of the passengers were said to be on their way to a festival in honour of Saint James, the apostle who gave his name to Santiago de Compostela.

"As a believer, I wonder how Saint James can have allowed this to happen," said Pedro, a grey-bearded pilgrim from Cantabria in northern Spain, wearing a cape and using a walking stick.

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