It was supposed to be a fun trip to the zoo to see the animals and take a ride on the train. But on June 1st 2009 the fun outing for Cheri McKenzie, her two grand kids and 26 other people stopped short when the Louisville zoo train derailed. One day after the accident, Cheri's husband told us about his wife's injuries.
"She's got a fractured neck, she's got 25 staples in her scalp, her arm, her entire left side is nothing, but scars, scratches, bruises, her face is swollen, her eyes are black," said Jon McKenzie
Now, 10 months after accident, the families are getting answers in a 12 page report released by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
It points to three contributing factors that led to the accident. Excessive speed as the train went through the downhill curve, the poor mechanical condition of the train and inadequate operator training.
The report says the train's driver, identified in court documents as Mary Coffey, had never driven this specific train and received her certification to operate the trains alone on the day of the accident. During a test run of the train that day, the 18-year-old driver noticed the brakes were sluggish but failed to report it to her supervisors.
Ron Hillerich represents 8 families in a lawsuit against the zoo, the city, and the train manufacturer.
"I think it shows an obvious lack of training, maintenance on behalf of the city. Not only does the city's conduct appear to be neglect, but grossly negligent," says Hillerich who's not surprised by the findings in the report.
Inspectors say when the train failed to slow down, Coffey incorrectly pumped the brake lever several times. When that didn't work, she tried to pull the parking braking mistaking it for the emergency brake.
"You've heard the old phrase...runaway train..that's exactly what we had in this case to the point where the operator took her hands off the control as it's going down hill and held on herself," says Hillerich
But KDA doesn't just blame Coffey. Investigators measured all the available shoe brakes and none were within manufacturer specifications. They say Coffey was inadequately trained and had not been told how to use the emergency brake. Louisville Zoo Director John Walczak says Coffey no longer works at the zoo but her supervisors do.
"Everyone that's involved with the maintenance of our equipment has been talked to. We've talked to them about how the equipments maintained, " says Walczak
The report also noted that a low air warning light and buzzer were not wired correctly. In fact, one wire was disconnected and affixed with electrical tape.
"Staff will be held accountable where it is appropriate," says Walczak.
KDA says the Zoo will have to pay $37,000 in fines for six violations. As for the future of the train, Walczak says he wants to see the train running again, he just doesn't know when.