Updated: November 23, 2012 at 12:00 am
A 31-year-old Fort Carson soldier who suffered a broken back when a train plowed into a float carrying dozens of war veterans in Midland, Texas, expects to return to Colorado early next week.
Sgt. 1st Class Richard Sanchez Jr. left for Texas with a crippled right hand, the result of a gunshot wound that shattered his elbow during a May attack in Afghanistan.
He’ll return to Colorado unable to walk in the wake of the Nov. 15 crash.
“I do have feeling in the lower part of my legs,” Sanchez said in a Friday telephone interview from his hospital room. “The swelling hasn’t really gone down yet, but I’m kind of hoping it will start going down a little bit more and then with physical therapy and with occupational therapy, I will be able to walk.”
Sanchez, of the post’s Warrior Transition Battalion, refused to assign blame while recovering at Midland Memorial Hospital, where he’s been since a train hit the float he was riding aboard, killing four veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and injuring 15 others.
A 13-year Army veteran who deployed to Afghanistan in March with the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division, Sanchez traveled to Midland for the Show of Support-Hunt for Heroes program. The nonprofit organization takes veterans on hunting trips.
During the organization’s parade kicking off three days of festivities, investigators say the float carrying Sanchez began crossing the train tracks while warning bells were sounding and the crossing lights were flashing.
A warning system was activated 20 seconds before the Union Pacific train traveling at more than 60 mph ran into the truck. Guardrails began to come down 13 seconds before the collision.
Hearing someone yell, Sanchez said he turned to his right and saw the train approaching. That’s when the crossing guard arms at the intersection came down in front of his chest, he said.
“Everything from there kind of went into fast forward,” he said.
The soldier pushed his wife, Heather Sanchez, out of the way before being thrown in the collision.
“I saw my husband laying in a ball,” his wife told NBC’s Today Show last week. “I thought he was dead. He wasn’t moving. Didn’t look like he was breathing. There was blood everywhere.
“He was just crumpled up so I started screaming his name and that’s when he woke up.”
His wife suffered bruises in the crash, Sanchez said.
His lawyer, Robert Pottroff, appeared next to Sgt. 1st Class Sanchez on the morning show and called the train crossing’s warning time “insufficient,” though he declined to assign blame for the crash.
No charges have been filed since the crash, which remains under investigation. The driver of the float was an Army reservist who had deployed overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sgt. 1st Class Sanchez said he plans to arrive for treatment Monday or Tuesday at Craig Hospital in Englewood, which specializes in spinal cord injuries. He hopes to continue in the Army, but is realistic about the odds.
“This would be a lot harder to go through if I didn’t have as strong a support system as I do,” Sgt. 1st Class Sanchez said, later praising the support from community of Midland, where the crash occurred.
“It makes me feel kind of like I was hurt in my own hometown.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report
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