Midland, Texas -- Four veterans, including three with North Carolina ties, were killed Thursday when a train slammed into a parade float carrying the returning heroes to a banquet to honor them in West Texas, officials said Friday.
Marine Chief Warrant Officer 3 Gary Stouffer, 37, and retired Army Sgt. Maj. Lawrence Boivin, 47, died at the scene.
Stouffer was stationed at Camp Lejeune, while Boivin was director of support operations for K2 Solutions Inc. in Southern Pines, which provides logistics, canine training and intelligence and threat management consulting services.
Army Sgt. Maj. William Lubbers, 43, who was stationed at Fort Bragg, died at Midland Memorial Hospital.
The fourth person killed was Army Sgt. Joshua Michael, 34. Lubbers' wife, Tiffany, was injured in the crash and was listed in serious condition at University Medical Center in Lubbock, Texas. Boivin's wife, Angie, a nurse at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center, also was among 16 people injured.
The float took the full force of the train at a railroad crossing Thursday afternoon. Some people managed to jump clear as the train, with its horn blasting, bore down on the float decorated with American flags. Horrified spectators at the parade could only watch as the carnage unfolded.
"The train honked its horn, but the 18-wheeler could not go anywhere because of the other one (truck) being right in front of it," said Daniel Quinonez, who was waiting in his vehicle as the parade went by. "It was a horrible accident to watch happen right in front of me. I just saw the people on the semi-truck's trailer panic, and many started to jump off the trailer. But it was too late for many of them."
Sudip Bose, a front-line physician in Iraq who had been volunteering at the parade, said Friday that the immediate aftermath of the collision reminded him of the war.
"It was a scene of total chaos," Bose said, of Odessa, about 20 miles to the northeast.
He described how veterans were already tending to the wounded with limited medical supplies when he reached the crash site.
"Instincts kicked in. They were applying tourniquets, holding pressure to the wounds." Bose said.
Boivin's neighbors in Fayetteville said he was like the neighborhood protector who kept an eye out for trouble, and they had no doubt he stayed on the trailer to save lives.
"He was trying to get those people (off) because that's the kind of guy he is," neighbor Dottie Lowell said.
Boivin had served in Iraq and Afghanistan with Special Operations and received the Silver Star and Purple Heart. He is survived by his wife, two stepdaughters and a grandson.
Lubbers, a member of Special Forces, served four tours of duty in Afghanistan and earned the Purple Heart and three Bronze Stars. He is survived by his wife and two children.
Stouffer served in Afghanistan, Iraq, Albania and Kosovo. During his last tour in Afghanistan, his vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device, leaving him with a traumatic brain injury. He is survived by his wife and two children.
Of the 16 hurt in the crash, one veteran and two spouses were in stable condition Midland Memorial Hospital on Friday afternoon, while a third spouse was in critical condition.
Flatbed stuck on train tracks
The float was one of two flatbed tractor-trailers carrying veterans and their spouses. Police said the first truck safely crossed the tracks but that the second truck's trailer was still on the crossing as the train approached.
Patricia Howle was waiting in her car at a nearby traffic light as the train approached.
"I just started screaming," she said. "The truck was on the other side of the train, but I did see the panic on the faces of the people and saw some of them jump off."
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were reviewing the crash with local authorities on Friday.
Deborah Hersman, NTSB chairwoman, said Friday on NBC's "Today" show that the train was equipped with a forward-facing camera whose footage could help in the investigation.
"That will give us some video images if it survived the crash and we can download it, as well as recorders on the train," Hersman said. "We're going to be looking at the signals ... and making sure that the gates and lights were coming down."
Late Thursday, Union Pacific spokesman Tom Lange said a preliminary investigation indicated the crossing gate and lights were working. He did not know if the train crew saw the float. The black box from the train will determine its speed at the time of impact.
The parade had been scheduled to end at a "Hunt for Heroes" banquet honoring the veterans. The wounded service members were then going to be treated to a deer-hunting trip this weekend. The events were canceled.
The events were organized by Show Of Support, a local veterans group.
"Everyone associated with Show of Support Military Hunt Inc. is deeply, deeply saddened by the tragic events of yesterday, and our hearts and prayers go out to all those who have been affected," Terry Johnson, president of the organization, said in a statement posted on the group's website.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta "was deeply saddened by news of the tragic accident involving veterans heroes and their spouses in Midland," Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement. "His thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims, with those injured in this incident, and with the entire community."
"He's a good person," said Carol Smith, a neighbor of Boivin's. "It's sad to lose a good person, especially in this neighborhood, (which) is kind of close knit."