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Conductor in Spanish train crash questioned

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain -- The driver of the train that derailed at high speed was being questioned by a judge on Sunday as officials tried to determine if he was responsible for the accident, which killed 79 people.

Francisco Jose Garzon Amo, 52, has been held by police on suspicion of negligent homicide. He has not been formally charged or made any official statements.

But minutes after the crash, Garzon said he had been going fast and couldn't brake, a local resident who rushed to the scene of the accident said in an interview broadcast yesterday.

Evaristo Iglesias said he and another person accompanied the blood-soaked Garzon to flat ground where other injured people were being laid out, waiting for emergency services to arrive.

"He told us that he wanted to die," Iglesias told Antena 3 television. "He said he had needed to brake but couldn't." He added that Garzon said "he had been going fast."

The train carrying 218 passengers hurtled far above the 50-mph speed limit into a high-risk curve on Wednesday, tumbling off the tracks and slamming into a concrete wall; some cars caught fire.

On Sunday, Garzon was moved from the police station in the northwestern Spanish town of Santiago de Compostela, near the accident scene, to its courthouse just as the deadline of his 72 hours of detention was to expire.

Luis Alaez, the investigative judge, was to question him in private and was not expected to comment about it afterward. The judge also was to have access to the information contained in the train's "black box," which is similar to those found on aircraft, officials said.

Investigators must determine if Garzon failed to apply the brakes or whether it was a technical failure.

The death toll from the derailment rose to 79 Sunday when an injured passenger died at a hospital. She was identified as American Myrta Fariza of Houston, her family said in a statement.

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