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Spartanburg, SC —Updated Saturday March 26th

Representative Brannon says even if LLR and the Spartanburg Parks Commission were found negligent they’re protected by the State Tort Claims Act.

It’s a law that protects government bodies from being sued for more than 300,000 or more than 600,000 in this case.

Brannon says the 600,000 dollars would have to be split by all the families involved.

The only way to get more money for the victims would be to go through the legislature.

Brannon says tort reform is an issue you’ve voted on before.

He says it’s going to be a general law that affects everyone, not case by case.

It would also be a long time until a law could be passed.

“I would imagine we could pass something like a proviso that would in fact affect only these individuals but the legislative process is a slow process I don’t know if there’s time left in this session to increase cap thorough filing of a bill,” said Brannon.

And that money doesn’t just appear out of nowhere, it comes from you the taxpayer.

The bottom line here is that the money under the cap is absolutely not enough.

There’s going to be a lot of people with bills that aren’t covered by the damages paid if any by the negligent actors

Updated Friday March 25th

News Channel 7 reporters Graeme Moore and Jonathan Carlson spent hours examining previously unseen maintenance records, evidence in the investigation, for “Sparkles” the Cleveland Park amusement train that crashed Saturday, killing one and injuring dozens.

The following newsworthy details were uncovered in the records search, first reported by WSPA, Friday afternoon:

  • According to guidelines, the train shouldn’t go more than two laps. The train went three on Saturday when it crashed, according to officials.
  • The recommended speed for the train is 8 mph. During a news conference after the crash, the attorneys for Matthew Conrad, the driver of the train, mentioned the top speed of the trains used at Cleveland Park was tested at just over 15 mph.
  • Maintenance checklists are to be performed daily, on each run. The last checklists were filed in October 2010. It doesn’t mean they weren’t done since then. They may just not be turned in yet.
  • The LLR inspector terminated for falsifying documents in the wake of the train wreck inspected the train for years. Each year he gave it passing reviews.
  • Maintenance records dating back years, show persistant brake and wheel failures. Problems that were reportedly fixed, but reoccured the following year.
  • The records also show a mechanic came from North Carolina and inspected the train, finding those problems, before the inspector would then give it the passing grade.
  • The county sent out a safety memo in 2005 saying adults may NOT sit over the wheels. This puts “STRAIN ON THE BRAKES.”

The records also revealed more about the job of the conductor:

  • The position paid $8 an hour
  • His duties included “inspect train and check tracks”. And “knowledge of engine  mechanics helpful” But not required.

The Spartanburg County Coroner told News Channel 7 he’s working to bring in outside companies to reconstruct the accident.

His office is also in the process of viewing the documents, News Channel 7’s team reviewed.


On Saturday, March 19, “Sparkles,” a miniature train at Cleveland Park in Spartanburg derailed, killing a 6-year-old, Benjamin Easler, and injuring dozens, including parents and children on the train.

Services for Benjamin Easler were held Thursday at Corinth Baptist Church.

Three children are still being treated at area hospitals, officials said Friday.

Greenville Memorial reports one patient being treated there. Two children are being treated at Spartanburg Regional.

In the aftermath of the train wreck, the South Carolina Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation reported the inspector approved the permit for the train to begin operation even though he did not check the speed of the train.

The inspector was terminated.

Later, a police narrative obtained showed the conductor, Matthew Conrad, told officers as he was being transported to the hospital that he was going too fast.

On Wednesday, News Channel 7’s Chris Cato spoke to an attorney who reported he was filing suit on behalf of victims in the crash.

Cato also spoke with officials at Corinth Baptist Church, where Pastor Dwight Easler, the father of the child killed, preaches. They say Pastor Easler spoke with Conrad and expressed the family’s thoughts and feelings about the wreck.

Matthew Conrad, the conductor of the train, spoke to members of the media at a news conference Thursday.

Read more about this story, including details about the latest developments, below.


Matthew Conrad, the driver of a train that derailed Saturday, spoke to the news media at a news conference Wednesday.

“I’m as much a victim as anyone else,” Conrad said. “I’m suffering too.”

Conrad said the media attention he received was surprising.

“I recognize I was going to be an easy target for blame,” he said. “I wasn’t prepared for what has happened.”

His attorney commented at the news conference.

“Under no set of circumstances would he have endangered children’s lives,” Conrad’s attorney said.

Conrad talked about the safety checks he performed before opening the train to the public.

He said he performed a two-lap test run Saturday morning at slow speeds and then a three-lap test run at normal speed just before opening the train for the public.

He said he felt the train and tracks were safe before the accident.

He talked about the wreck and the aftermath.

“Something went terribly wrong,” he said.

After the accident, Conrad said he heard the first medical transport helicopter land nearby.

“I knew what that helicopter meant,” Conrad said.

Conrad said he talked to the father of the child killed in the wreck.

“He prayed with me over the phone,” Conrad said.


Spartanburg attorney Tom Killoren is filing a lawsuit at this hour in state court on behalf of Brooks and Tasha Harris, a couple on the train with their two children when it derailed.

All four suffered minor injuries. The suit is against Spartanburg Parks Commission, Spartanburg County, and SC LLR for gross negligence.

Killoren says he will make an argument that there are exceptions to the state’s $600,000 cap set forth in the Tort Claims Act and this is certainly one of those.


Corinth Baptist Church Youth Minister Nathan Ellis of Corinth Baptist Church says the eight families from their church who were injured in the crash are meeting at 4pm Wednesday to talk to the insurance adjuster for Spartanburg County.

Some of these families don’t have insurance or have very high deductibles and they are concerned about the $600,000 cap.


Ellis says Pastor Dwight Easler, the father of the child killed in the crash, personally called train conductor Matt Conrad Tuesday and told him not to feel guilty. Ellis says Easler told Conrad his family doesn’t hold anything against him and no one blames him, Ellis says Easler told Conrad Benjamin “Benji” Easler is in Heaven.


The conductor driving the train involved in Saturday’s fatal crash told police he was going “too [expletive deleted] fast,” and that he knew better, according to an incident report.

The train’s conductor, Matthew Conrad, told the officer who accompanied him to the hospital that he “knew better than to drive the train that fast,” according to the report obtained by WSPA.

Read the complete Report

The officer’s report said Conrad explained how he “would go slow on the first lap, go a bit faster on the second lap and it was on the third lap around the track when he opened it up to go faster.”

The report goes on: “Mr. Conrad said that when he crossed onto the bridge he felt the back end of the engine come off the track and the next thing he knew he was off the rails and into the creek.”

The report also states that Conrad told the officer he didn’t know how he was going to live with himself after Saturday’s accident.

Amy Wood uncovered Conrad’s blog Saturday night after the crash and by Sunday it was gone. She saved the screenshots of the blog. Click here to read the blog. The coroners office has now taken interest in the blogs and say they will supenoea the information.

Spartanburg Public Safety issued the following statement about the report and the comments from the conductor in it:

We can not analyze the entire incident based on a single uttered statement.  At this point we have not reached a conclusion as to the technical or mechanical findings of the investigation.  The statement, while important to the investigation, does not provide conclusive evidence of the actual speed or the functionally of the train or tracks.

News Channel 7 has obtained video of the train crash as it happened and the 911 calls after the crash. Out of sensitivity to the families WSPA had decided not to publish the video or the 911 calls.


The inspector of the train has been fired.

Governor Haley, along with the head of LLR, Catherine Templeton, announced the termination Monday in Columbia.

Templeton said the inspector, Donnie Carrigan, did not report a dead battery on the train on the day of the inspection so he could not check the train’s speed.

Templeton says the permit to operate the train should not have been issued.

Carrigan was terminated for falsifying documents.

He has been an inspector for 20 years.

Officials say Carrigan came to them immediately and admitted he did not report the dead battery.

Templeton says Carrigan’s national certification, along with national certification for six other inspectors, was lapsed. All seven inspectors, however, still had basic state certification.

Monday night, LLR told News Channel 7, all sites inspected by Carrigan will be re-inspected.

The director also told us, a new team of inspectors are being trained to compliment the current staff or replace others.

Amusement train rides are shut down statewide.

Officials that operate a similar train in Greenville County say they are going to locate and hire an independent body to inspect and review their train, “out of an abundance of extreme caution” — given that LLR had just inspected the Spartanburg train.

Click here to read more about the LLR train shutdown.


A spokesperson for the Spartanburg Parks Commission says the parks employee who signed off on a falsified inspection report MAY not be disciplined for that action.

Nisha Patel says Cleveland Park maintenance technician Scott Merriotte offered to put a working battery in the train so a state inspector could properly check its speed but the inspector said, “No, don’t worry about it, it’s fine.”

When asked why Merriotte accepted a clean inspection report knowing the train had not been tested for proper speed, Patel replied, “He’s a maintenance tech. He’s not a train conductor. He doesn’t know what should be checked for during an inspection or how a train works.”

She said the conductor was there at the beginning of the inspection but left before it was finalized. She said the Parks Commission is discussing updating its policies to require train conductors or someone familiar with the inspection process to be present for inspections and sign off on inspection forms.

Click here to read more.


Six children remain in the hospital Tuesday

Three children are being treated for injuries at Spartanburg Regional.

They are reportedly in stable condition.

Three more children are being treated in the Greenville Hospital System.

6-year-old Benjamin Samuel Easler of Gaffney S.C. died in the crash.


Members of Corinth Baptist Church gathered Sunday morning to pray for their pastor and the other children that were on board of the train Saturday afternoon.

Easler is the son of the pastor at Corinth Baptist, Dwight Easler.

Members of the Corinth Baptist Church released this statement on their web page:

Thank you to everyone for your prayers for Corinth, the Easlers, and for my family. Just a little update and rumor control… Corinth had 16 people on the train at Cleveland Park when it derailed, including 3 adults and children ages 6 to 11. There were approximately 30 total people on the train. We have no idea why it derailed but it seemed to be going a little fast according to those on board. The pastor’s son, Benji, did loose his life in the accident. Other adults and children were injured with everything from scratches and bruises to broke bones and head injuries.

To read the entire statement click here.


Two days following Saturday’s deadly train crash at Spartanburg’s Cleveland Park, at least one other neighboring state is taking notice.

Labor officials in North Carolina told News Channel 7 they are responding by sending inspectors immediately to reevaluate their amusement trains. However, they are not shutting down, according to department spokesman Neil O’Briant. That state does annual inspections of its 20 trains, according to O’Briant.

Georgia also has 5 amusement trains like the one involved in Saturday’s accident, but safety officials there are not doing anything additional following the crash. Labor officials there say they do annual inspections, as well as “surprise visits” to their 5 train sites.

Click here to read more on regional reactions to the wreck.

Statement On Cleveland Park Train Tragedy From The Spartanburg Parks Commission

March 21, 2011

The tragic accident that occurred at Cleveland Park on Saturday, March 19 has stunned us all. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families who were involved in this accident. The Spartanburg Parks Commission’s number one priority is safety. We are committed to making sure everyone at our parks and programs have a fun and safe time. We understand there are a lot of questions that need to be answered, but our focus right now is on those families affected by this tragedy. Spartanburg Public Safety Officials are focusing on the investigation, trying to find the cause for why this happened.

An inspection on the train was conducted on March 16, just a few days before the train was in operation. This inspection is conducted every year prior to the start of the season. The train has been operational since 1952 and this was the first accident, of record, resulting in injury that has occurred.

Again, this is a very difficult time for everyone involved. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those families involved and ask that the community continues to show its support for all who responded and assisted those who were injured.

From the Spartanburg Parks Commission

Credit to www.wspa.com