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Teacher remembers Amtrak derailment, shares how incident sparked interest in emergency training

'I think back to just lying there in the seat … and how quickly it descended into chaos'
Posted: 4:57 PM, Jun 07, 2023
Updated: 2023-06-07 23:40:15-04
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OLATHE, Kan. — June 27, 2022, marks one year after a deadly train derailment in Mendon, Missouri.

Four people died and dozens of others were injured after an Amtrak train hit a dump truck that was stopped on a railroad crossing.

Many passengers spoke with KSHB 41’s Megan Abundis amidst the chaos about how they were able to get off the train and receive help at Mendon High School.

Nearly one year later, Abundis is following up with one of those voices, Jason Drinkard.

Before derailment

Drinkard, a history teacher at Pleasant Ridge High School, has one memory he just can't shake.

“I remember how easy it was going,” Drinkard said. “I think back to just lying there in the seat, reading a book and how enjoyable the trip was … and how quickly it descended into chaos.”

Last year, Drinkard and a small group of his high school students were all smiles at Union Station, not knowing their day would not go as planned.

Even with a delayed train to Chicago, they believed their school competition trip to the Future Business Leaders of America would be waiting for them.

“As our train car tipped over, we hit the ground and it actually drug us,” Drinkard said. “That’s one of the things, the screeching, the crunching of metal, the gravel underneath it, that’s one of those things that sticks with me a lot.”

Drinkard says the one-year mark, June 27, of the train crash has been on his mind.

“It’s one of those things every morning, every time I go to work, for whatever reason, there’s always a dump truck," he said. "Every time I see a dump truck, it takes me right back to the incident."

Day of derailment

KSHB 41 caught up with Jason after he was safely off the train.

“My mind was saying, 'I can’t believe this is actually happening.' And everything else was just slow motion,” Drinkard said in 2022.

Drinkard said it was survival mode trying to find a way out, describing how the ground where he once stood was to his left and the ceiling was to his right.

“I remember how hot it was,” he said.

He remembers people burning their hands climbing on the train trying to escape to provide aid to others.

“I’ve never seen this before where everyone was trying to help everyone,” he said. “I know I did everything I could, but I wish there was more I could have done."

Mendon Timeline

After derailment

Months after the crash, Drinkard obtained a certification in emergency training and is working to become a medic in the Army Reserve.

“One of the biggest things I still feel when I think about last summer was just feeling how unprepared I was,” Drinkard said. “I felt almost isolated because I just felt helpless. Because of that, because of the CERT training in Olathe, I feel better to handle an emergency like that.”

But what he says overshadows the crash and the blur of people in pain was the generosity of the town of Mendon, Missouri.

“People coming in, ‘Hey. How are you doing?’" he said. "Checking in on you, just ordinary people — it wasn’t nurses, doctors or EMTs, just people coming and turning out to see if you’re okay. That’s something I’m going to take with me 'till I die, just how great the town of Mendon was."

Drinkard filed a lawsuit and is waiting to see if it heads to trial or arbitration.

“I just want to see all railroads do a better job. There have been way too many derailments," he said. “To get all those crossings with lights and bar, shortly after there was the FedEx crash, the same thing.”

He says the way he travels has changed, and he looks for control where he can find it.

“Something more has to be done to ensure safety," he said. "You look at the pictures of the dump truck, it was a mere second or two and the truck would be across, there would be four people alive right now and there wouldn't be 100 some people dealing with the injuries and the trauma had there been some sort of safety mechanism put in place."

Drinkard says the crash brought his group closer together, and they have been able to have conversations at school about what they went through.

In just a few weeks, Drinkard's students are heading back to FBLA Nationals, the same weekend as last year. This time, the group will be flying.