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Witnesses relay horror of train-ride crash

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Witnesses flooded authorities with calls pleading for help for screaming, bloodied children who had been riding on a miniature train ride that sped up and derailed, killing a 6-year-old boy.

"Hurry. There's a whole bunch," one frantic caller said in one 911 call, the audio obtained by The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act. "One kid's leg almost tore off. One kid's not breathing."

"The train fell off the bridge, and there were a bunch of little kids on it," another caller said, screams filling the background. "It's a bloody mess," said another.

The callers reported chaotic scenes from a park in Spartanburg, S.C., where a nearly 60-year-old train toppled off a bridge Saturday, killing 6-year-old passenger Benji Easler.

Authorities say 27 others suffered injuries from bumps and bruises to broken bones.

Some children were carried off in stretchers.

In one of the more than 30 calls, a woman described a boy turning blue while two people perform CPR on him. "He's probably 7. It's not good for him at all," another caller said.

Matt Conrad, 42, the train operator who also was injured, told police he knew he was driving too fast just before tragedy struck, according to documents released Tuesday.

"I was going too [expletive] fast," Conrad told a police officer riding with him to the hospital after the crash, according to incident reports released by the Spartanburg Public Safety Department.

Authorities have not said what caused the crash, but Conrad's statement bolsters comments from witnesses who said the train sped up during its third lap around a circuit.

Many of those on the train were members of Corinth Baptist Church in Gaffney, S.C., where Benji Easler's father is a pastor. A minister acting as their spokesman said passengers told him the train was speeding up on its final circuit.

"All of my people said the train got faster and faster," the Rev. Nathan Ellis said. "They felt like it was increasing in speed and something was wrong."

The ride was supposedly checked by a state inspector last Wednesday and allowed to open for operation. But after the crash, authorities say, the inspector came forward to say he had falsified his report and had not checked the train's speed because its battery was dead. He was fired Monday.

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