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"I walked away from there feeling pretty bad"

Hank Hayes • Feb 1, 2018 at 6:00 PM

“It’s really frustrating to not be able to do anything for this man who died.”

Those were the words of U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, a retired Johnson City physician who unsuccessfully attempted to revive 28-year-old Christopher Foley after a train hit a large garbage truck at a Virginia crossing as GOP lawmakers were traveling to their annual retreat in West Virginia to plan their legislative agenda.

About a half-dozen lawmakers who are also physicians attempted to treat a small number of people impacted by the incident at the crash scene.

In a Thursday conference call with reporters, Roe described what happened.

“To keep the buses off the road, we had elected to go on the train, which we had done a time or two before,” Roe, R-Tenn., said. “ … About 15 minutes or so after Charlottesville, I’m sitting there with a Coke, and there was a loud noise and obviously there was impact. It was clear we hit something. … We didn’t know if something had hit the train. … Several people who were walking in the hallway at the time were knocked to the floor of the train car. Some were banged up pretty good but nothing that required hospitalization. Just like a fall you would take at your house … and then we looked out the window of the train and we could see a truck had overturned, and we had hit this truck. … It was really kind of hard to get off the train.

“Three people … one person I saw was standing up, who I think was the driver. … There were six or seven of us who were physicians on that train. … The man I got to was probably killed instantly. We began CPR on him, not knowing if we could revive him or not. … We worked on him for some time until the EMT people came. They got there very quickly. … They were able to stabilize one person.”

Roe addressed these questions:

What was the situation like?

“I’m sure what they were doing was just trying to get done for the day. … It was cold. … I was just out there in a shirt. … Your training kicks in. … We know what to do. You have to clear an area and make sure they can breathe. … The gentleman who passed had no cardiac activity. … It’s just tough to see a young man die like that.”

What was the mood on the train after impact, and how long did it take to get off the train?

“They had people down there quickly. I think we were there about an hour. … The truck had knocked the train engine off the track. … Within two hours, we had six or eight buses heading on again.”

Have you been able to reach out to Mr. Foley’s family?

“I have not but I had planned to write them a note. … The thing I wanted to make sure was transmitted … was I don’t think he suffered at all.”

Do you think your medical background had anything to do with the way you responded?

“You don’t leave that training behind when you go into public office. … It’s still just as frustrating when you can’t be successful. I walked away from there feeling pretty bad.”

Have you heard anything about the investigation?

“I have not. … What amazed me was that it appeared to me everything at the railroad crossing was fine. The bars were down. They weren’t broken. The lights were working. I think the driver is the one who was least injured, and I think they will go and question him.”

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