**UPDATED FROM PRINT**
By Kathi Bliss
Six days, two casinos and a treasure trove of memories – that was the goal. The end result was something quite different.
Setting out on Sunday from Bastrop, the group, comprised largely of retirees, expected a few days of fun on the road, visiting the famed casinos in Mississippi, before returning on Saturday. The end result, for reasons that remain unclear, is an indelible scar that will be left on the travelers, their families, and communities left in mourning.
Several Lockhart-area residents have been confirmed as passengers on the ill-fated bus, including Kenneth and Peggy Hoffman, who lived their lives as partners, traveled together as friends, and tragically lost their lives together as a 52-car train, pulled by three engines, barreled into their tour bus in Biloxi, Miss., on Tuesday afternoon. The bus, according to witness reports, became disabled on a railroad crossing in Biloxi, and was being evacuated in the face of the oncoming train.
“We were going northbound and the bus, it just got stuck, right in the middle,” Lockhart resident Jim DelaCruz told an on-scene reporter with the Biloxi Sun Herald. “We couldn’t budge, and the train just kept coming and kept coming.”
DelaCruz and his wife, Josie, said the tour bus passengers had tried to evacuate the bus before the impact; witness reports indicate some of the passengers who had evacuated were caught in the impact as the train struck the bus, pushing it more than 300 feet before finally coming to a stop.
Experts indicate that trains loaded as heavily as the CSX Transportation train was, with 52 loaded cars and 27 empty, could need as many as three miles to come to a full stop, depending on their speed and weight. It is likely the CSX crew could have done nothing to stop the tragedy that unfolded in Biloxi on Tuesday afternoon.
Witnesses said the bus “bottomed out,” as it attempted to cross the tracks, a crossing that the Sun Herald says has a “steep approach,” that buses are warned to avoid.
Apart from the Hoffmans, six other Lockhart-area residents have been confirmed by family and friends as passengers on the bus, while additional names of Caldwell County residents continue to be suggested. Those others sustained a variety of injuries ranging from bumps and bruises to broken bones.
Melissa Flores, a Lockhart resident whose mother, Mary Ramirez, was on the bus, originally broke the news on social media that Lockhart residents were involved in the crash.
She said, on Tuesday night, that her mother and traveling companion Rachel Martinez were both well, but being kept overnight in a Biloxi hospital for observation. Family members planned to travel to Mississippi on Wednesday morning to bring the women home.
Becki Reed also confirmed that her mother, Jill McCan, traveling alone, was being held for observation for non-life-threatening injuries.
At press time, a full manifest of passengers was unavailable, and it is unclear exactly how many Lockhart residents were passengers on the tour, or the medical conditions of the survivors. Under Mississippi law, only the county coroner is authorized to release the identities of those killed in the crash; the coroner has temporarily declined to do so.
In all, reports said, more than 35 of the 48 passengers on the bus were transported to local hospitals with injuries spanning the spectrum from minor to serious. Witnesses at the scene told the Sun Herald that some were able to clear the scene prior to the impact, while others were thrown from the bus as the train struck.
Lockhart Independent School District released a statement to staff and media late Tuesday evening, confirming the deaths of the Hoffmans, and extending condolences to the community.
“Ken and Peggy served us as colleagues, teachers, and leaders in our community,” Superintendent Susan Bohn wrote. “We feel their loss deeply across the district, remembering the mark that they made upon us and upon a generation of children in our community.”
McCurdy Funeral Home has confirmed that they will be working with the family on funeral arrangements for the beloved couple. Visitation is on Monday, March 13, 2017, from 5 -7 p.m. at the funeral home. Services will be held on Tuesday, March 14, 2017, at 10 a.m. at the First United Methodist Church with Pastor Rob Clopton officiating. Interment will follow at Lockhart City Cemetery.