Santiago De Compostela, Spain » Spain’s royal family and leading politicians were to attend a somber Mass on Monday in homage to the 79 people killed in the country’s worst train accident in decades, as the driver left police custody for the first time after being charged in the case.
Francisco Jose Garzon Amo faces multiple counts of negligent homicide after being questioned late Sunday in a two-hour hearing with the judge. The investigation has increasingly focused on why he failed to brake in time to stop the train from hurtling into a dangerous curve, where it careered off the tracks and slammed into a concrete wall.
Judge Luis Alaez ruled that Garzon was not a flight risk and released him without bail, but ordered him to appear before the court once a week and not to leave Spain. He was driven from the court in a police car after dark, but it was not clear where he was taken.
Several Spanish neswspapers, including leading daily El Pais, reported that the driver acknowledged to the judge that the train was travelling too fast, but that he briefly stopped paying attention.
That could not be independently confirmed, but a witness who scrambled to the scene after the accident told Spanish television that Garzon told him he was going fast and couldn’t brake.
The crash left a pall over the city of Santiago de Compostela, an important Catholic religious site that had been preparing for a feast celebrating Spain’s patron saint. Shrines and regional flags with black mourning ribbons have dotted the area since Wednesday’s crash.
Crown heir Prince Felipe, his sister Princess Elena and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy were among those scheduled to attend the evening ceremony in the ancient cathedral in Santiago de Compostela.
Many families of victims were also expected to attend the Mass, which is to be televised nationally. The ceremony is open to the public and a giant screen is to be set up in one of the squares outside the cathedral, where thousands of pilgrims, many with backpacks and walking sticks, traditionally gather on arriving in the city.
Officials canceled the feast of St. James of Compostela on Thursday, and turned the sports arena into a morgue.
Most of the dead were Spaniards but there were also victims from Algeria, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, France, Italy, Mexico and the United States. The train was almost certainly carrying would-be pilgrims although most usually walk to Santiago from all over Spain and abroad.
On Sunday, families of victims performed the painful task of retrieving their loved ones’ belongings, collecting luggage that was being held by police.
The Spanish rail agency has said the brakes should have been applied four kilometers (2.5 miles) before the train hit the curve. The witness who rushed to the scene said in an interview broadcast Sunday that minutes after the crash Garzon told him he couldn’t brake.
The resident, 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," Iglesias said. He added that Garzon said "he had been going fast."
Spain’s state-run train company has described him as an experienced driver who knew the route well.
Officials said 70 people injured in the train accident remained hospitalized, 22 of them in critical condition.
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