HOLLY SPRINGS, Ga. - A Holly Springs officer and his wife were among the people injured after a train crashed into a parade float during a parade honoring war heroes in Texas Thursday afternoon.
The parade float, filled with wounded veterans and their spouses, was inching across a railroad track when the crossing gates began to lower and a freight train that seemed to come out of nowhere was suddenly bearing down on them, its horn blaring.
Some of those seated on the float jumped off in wide-eyed terror just moments before the train crashed into the flatbed truck with a low whoosh and a thunderous crack.
Holly Springs Chief Ken Ball told Channel 2's Ross Cavitt the news shocked his department when they heard about the almost unthinkable tragedy. He said he knew one of his officers was there.
"At this point we just ask for prayer from the public," Ball said. "He's a wounded war vet, served in Iraq was wounded in Iraq and just faced those challenges from recovery from that incident, and now this."
Ladner and his wife Meg sat on the trailer by his side. The parade was taking them to a banquet honoring wounded war vets from across the country.
In Holly Springs, they had no idea if the Ladner's were on the flatbed hit by the train, until a picture started making the rounds, then they knew.
"It's very shocking that something that started out to be such a joyous tribute to him ended in such tragedy," Lt. Tanya Anderson of the Holly Springs Police Department.
Ladner was slightly hurt, but Meg Ladner was rushed into surgery where doctors had to amputate a leg.
News quickly spread through Cherokee County, where many had met Ladner as he patrolled the streets on the day shift.
"They put their life on the line every day and to have something like this happen it just breaks my heart," Charlotte Landolfi said.
"Everyone feels a little helpless right now because they're not here and they want to help but until we get them home there's not a lot to do but pray for them," said Rob Logan, city manager.
Killed were Marine Chief Warrant Officer 3 Gary Stouffer, 37; Army Sgt. Maj. Lawrence Boivin, 47; Army Sgt. Joshua Michael, 34; and Army Sgt. Maj. William Lubbers, 43. One veteran and three spouses remained hospitalized Friday, with one spouse in critical condition.