A most serious, fatal and costly accident occurred on the Eastern division of the Erie about a mile west of Otisville about 6 o'clock this morning. Train 83, John Hawkins conductor, a fast westward bound freight, had stopped to repair a broken brake beam and before the flagman had gotten far enough back, a fast freight train trom Newburgh which was following, dashed into the rear of 83 piling up the cars on both tracks. The Newburgh train was in charge of conductor J.H. Dotter, was drawn by engine 559, Willard Hector engineer, and A.A. Cronk fireman, and was running at the rate of 25 miles per hour. Less than a minute afterwards the fast Wells-Fargo Express train, No. 14, going east, ran into the wreck which was partially piled on the eastward bound track causing a second wreck. The express train did not suffer much damage beyond being thrown from the track.
Engineer Hector and his fireman Cronk, did not have time, even if they had the inclination, to jump from their engine, and it went clear through the caboose of Hawkins train. In the caboose at the time of the collision were Conductor Hawkins, and brakemen Charles Clauson and George McMullen, the latter two being extra passenger brakemen who were dead-heading back to Port Jervis from Jersey City.
After the collision, when the few train men who were uninjured went back to look after their comrades, a terrible sight met their eyes. Conductor Hawkins was lying alongside the eastward bound track with one leg entirely severed below the knee and otherwise badly injured. Brakeman George McMullen was dead, while brakeman Charles Clauson was terribly burned about the legs and feet. In fact some of his toes were so badly scalded with escaping steam that they were about ready to drop off. Engineer Hector was also badly scalded about the face and legs, his injuries being very painful but not necessarily fatal. His fireman, A.A. Cronk, had one leg so badly crushed between the knee and ankle that amputation of the limb will be necessary. He was also otherwise badly injured. All the injured men, together with the dead body of brakeman McMullen, were brought to this village in charge of surgeons J.H. Hunt and Henry B. Swartout and conveyed to the Delaware House for treatment. Hawkins, Cronk and Clauson are all badly injured and it will be some hours before their exact condition and prospects for life are fully known. Engineer Hector, although badly scalded, will probably recover. Conductor Hawkins resides on Ball Street and has a wife and two children. He has been an employee of the Erie for upwards of 20 years. Brakeman McMullen, who was killed, resides in Brooklyn and has a wife and, we believe, two children. Fireman Cronk is a young married man, and resides in this village. His former home was in Chester, where his parents still reside. Brakeman Clauson is a young single man and boards in Matamoras. Engineer Hector is a married man and has two children.
The blame for the accident has not been fixed, but some of the train men state that it was due to the negligence of the flagman on conductor Hawkins train who failed to get his flag back far enough although he had ample time. It is also stated that he has not been seen since the accident. It was a costly accident for the Erie, and what is worse still resulted in the death of one man and the permanent injury and possible death of three more employees. Both tracks were blocked for several hours and all passenger trains delayed. The attendant physicians will amputate the legs of conductor Hawkins and fireman Cronk as soon as they recover from the shock of the accident. They are both very feeble as of this writing, while engineer Hector and brakeman Clauson are suffering greatly from their bruises.
Coroner Marsh is today holding an inquest over the remains of brakeman McMullen. He was a former resident of Middletown.
The condition of the four Erie employees who were so seriously injured by the rear collision near Otisville on Wednesday morning, is still very precarious, and it will be some days before the attending surgeons will be able to predict the outcome of their injuries. Surgeons Hunt and Swartout yesterday afternoon amputated the right leg of conductor John Hawkins, midway between the knee and thigh. He stood the shock of the second operation very well (his foot was cut off in the accident) but he is very weak, and is suffering from other injuries besides those on his leg. The same surgeons also amputated the left leg of fireman A.A. Cronk just above the knee. He too is in a dangerous condition. Engineer Willard Hector is suffering intense pain by reason of severe burns on his legs and face but it is believed he will recover. Brakeman Charles Clauson is even a worse sufferer. He was terribly burned in the back, side and legs by escaping steam, while his feet were so badly scalded that several of his toes dropped off. He is in a dangerous condition. All the injured are still at the Delaware House where they were being cared for by members of their families and a corps of nurses provided by the Erie company. They were taken to the Delaware House on account of the urgent necessity of having their injuries attended to at once and also to enable the surgeons to visit them as quickly as possible, which could not be done were they scattered over various portions of the village.
Speaking of the sad death of George McMullen, the Middletown Press says:
"George McMullen, the young man killed at Otisville this morning, assisted the coroner last evening in removing the remains of Michael Hassett, who was killed at the Summit, while his train was standing here. In a few hours others had to perform the same sad duty for him." The funeral of Mr. McMullen will take place from his late residence on Hudson Street Friday morning at 10 o'clock. The remains will be taken to Middletown, his former home, for interment.
The coroner's jury over the death of George McMullen held a brief session Wednesday afternoon and adjourned until this morning at 10 o'clock. A second adjournment was again taken until Friday owing to the absence of material witnesses, a majority of the persons who were in the wreck being dangerously injured.
From the October 25, 1888 edition of The New York Times:
Middletown, NY, Oct. 24 -- a deplorable accident on the Erie Railroad by which one trainman was instantly killed, and four others were dangerously injured ocurred early this morning, in the mountain cut just west of Otisville. As the regular freight train No. 79, westward bound, was going up the grade at that point a coupling broke at about the middle of the train, and the rear cars were left behind. There is a sharp curve in the track here, with impending rocks, which cut off the view ahead. Extra freight train No. 181 rounded the curve at high speed, and before brakes could be applied the locomotive plunged into the detached cars of the forward train. The caboose of train No. 79 was demolished and 14 cars of miscellaneous freight were derailed and wrecked.
In the caboose when the collision occurred were Conductor John Hawkins and flagman George McMullen. The flagman was instantly crushed to death and Conductor Hawkins had his legs broken and suffered internal injuries which in all probability will prove fatal. The colliding locomotive, No. 559, after crushing the caboose struck into a car loaded with marble blocks, and was completely wrecked. Willis Hector, the engineer, was fearfully scalded about the body and legs by escaping steam. Abram Cronk, the firemen, was pulled out from under the wrecked engine with one leg cut off and scalded and bruised. It is doubtful if either Hector or Cronk can recover. John Halligan, brakeman on this train, is also badly hurt.
All the victims of the disaster reside in Port Jervis, and there the dead and wounded were taken. Conductor Hawkins is an old and respected employe of the road, with a wife and children. McMullen leaves a young wife. The other victims are all young married men. The wreck blocked both tracks and stopped traffic at that point for four hours. The Erie Company's loss of property is heavy.