Upstate ride operator says train was going too fast before fatal crash

Monday's LLR press conference / Rob Starkey

SPARTANBURG (WACH) -- Hundreds in the Upstate were in attendance last night at a candlelight vigil to remember the 6-year-old boy killed in a miniature train crash over the weekend.

State officials say that the inspector responsible for certifying an upstate miniature train ride did not complete the inspection before approving it.

The inspector, Donnie Carrigan, has been fired for falsifying a report on the ride that killed one child and injured several others at a Spartanburg County-owned park Saturday, according to the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

The inspection was approved just days before the crash, but a speed check wasn't completed due to a dead battery on the ride.

Spartanburg County Councilman David Britt says the ride was inspected Wednesday and had several test runs before the crash that killed Benjamin Samuel Easler and sent dozens of children and parents to the hospital with severe to mild injuries.

LLR officials also say Carrigan had an expired certification. The agency says Carrigan is one of seven who were trying to get their licensing certification renewed.

Officials say the children's train ride that crashed over the weekend opened a week early to accommodate an early blast of spring weather.

Spartanburg Parks Commission spokeswoman Nisha Patel told The Associated Press Monday that officials opted to open the nearly 60-year-old train March 19, a week ahead of schedule.

Corinth Baptist Church officials told Upstate's FOX Carolina that 16 church members, including the pastor, Easler's father, and his pregnant wife were on the ride at Cleveland Park when it derailed. Church members said Easler's two other sons were also in the hospital.

The church members aboard the train said they have no idea why it derailed but said the train seemed to be going a little fast.

Police said in an incident report released Tuesday that Matt Conrad, the driver of the train, told an officer who accompanied him to the hospital that he knew he had been driving too fast and felt the train leave the tracks.

Church officials say the injuries suffered by the other adults and children on the train ranged from scratches and bruises to broken bones and head trauma.

Hundreds showed up Sunday morning to a prayer service at Corinth Baptist Church, where grief counselors were on hand to explain to the congregation of children and adults how to cope with the loss and tragedy.

Church members say they are just trying to come together and use their faith to get through the situation.

What do you think about the department allowing inspectors operate without proper certification? Leave a comment below to weigh in.

(FOX Carolina and The Associated Press contributed to this report.)