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Train driver faces judge as Spain mourns crash victims

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The driver of a train that hurtled off the rails killing 79 people in Spain faced questioning by a judge on Sunday, as the pilgrimage city of Santiago de Compostela mourned the dead.

Flowers and candles were placed at the crash site and at the gates of the city's cathedral, a year-round destination for Roman Catholic pilgrims.

Francisco Jose Garzon Amo, the 52-year-old driver, refused to answer police questions Friday from his hospital bed, and the case was passed to the courts.

Garzon was taken to a police station on Saturday after being discharged from hospital and was due to appear on Sunday before a judge who will decide whether to press formal charges, court officials said.

Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz told reporters on Saturday that Garzon Amo faced possible charges of reckless homicide over Spain's deadliest rail accident since 1944.

The train was reported to have been travelling at more than twice the speed limit on a bend when it tore off the rails on Wednesday and slammed into a concrete wall.

A passenger who was critically wounded in the crash died in hospital, health officials said Sunday, bringing the toll to 79, including eight foreigners.

"We are really feeling the impact. People are praying. It is a great tragedy," said Marlen de Francisco, a woman of 70 who sells souvenirs in the cathedral square.

"All day people are asking me for note paper so they can write messages and put them on the cathedral gates."

A memorial service is scheduled to be held in Santiago de Compostela on Monday.

Forensics police on Saturday identified the last three victims, including that of 35-year-old French veterinarian Jean-Baptiste Loirat.

"He was a very happy young father, adorable, very loving and family oriented," his aunt Marie-Anne Loirat told AFP in his hometown of Nantes in western France.

The president of the Spanish rail network administrator ADIF, Gonzalo Ferre, said Garzon had been warned to start slowing the train "four kilometres before the accident happened".

El Pais newspaper, citing investigation sources, reported that he told railway officials by radio that the train had taken the curve at 190 kilometres (118 miles) an hour -- more than double the 80 kph speed limit for that section of track.

A resident who rushed to the scene said in a television interview broadcast Sunday that the driver told him minutes after the crash he had been unable to brake.

"He said he had to brake to 80 and couldn't, that he was going fast," Evaristo Iglesias, who along with another man accompanied the driver to a stretch of flat land where other injured people were being laid out after the accident, told Antena 3.

"He kept saying 'I want to die! I want to die! I don't want to see this!".

State railway company Renfe said the driver had been with the firm for 30 years, including 13 years as a driver, and had driven trains past the spot of the accident 60 times.

El Mundo newspaper on Sunday printed extracts from the train's route plan, indicating that ahead of the bend the train passed from a stretch of track with a speed limit of 220 kph to one with a limit of 80 kph.

The newspaper said it was "surprising" that it was left entirely up to the driver exactly when to brake as the train entered the curve.

Some media reports described Garzon Amo as a speed freak who once posted a picture on his Facebook page of a train speedometer at 200 kph.

Renfe said the train -- a model able to adapt between high-speed and normal tracks -- had no technical problems and had just passed an inspection on the morning of the accident.

But the secretary general of Spain's train drivers' union, Juan Jesus Garcia Fraile, told public radio the track was not equipped with braking technology that would slow the train down automatically if the driver failed to so when required.

Many of the passengers were said to be on their way to a festival in honour of Saint James, the apostle who gave his name to Santiago de Compostela.

"As a believer, I wonder how Saint James can have allowed this to happen," said Pedro, a grey-bearded pilgrim from Cantabria in northern Spain, wearing a cape and using a walking stick.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130728/train-driver-faces-judge-spain-mourns-crash-victims