Alonzo J. Sargent (December 8, 1866 - May 7, 1942) was an American locomotive engineer from Jackson, Michigan who was found to be responsible for one of the worst circus train wrecks in U.S. history, the Hammond circus train wreck near Hammond, Indiana on June 22, 1918, a tragedy which killed 86 persons and injured another 127.
Circus train wreck
On June 22, 1918, at approximately 4:00 am, Sargent was operating a Michigan Central Railroad troop train pulling 20 empty Pullman cars which plowed into the caboose and four rear wooden sleeping cars of a 26-car circus train near Hammond, Indiana at an estimated speed of 35 miles per hour. Sargent, an experienced man at the throttle, had had little or no sleep in the preceding 24 hours. The effects of a lack of sleep, several heavy meals, some kidney pills, and the gentle rolling of his locomotive apparently combined in some form and made him drowsy.
The circus train held 400 performers and roustabouts of the Hagenbeck-Wallace circus. Most of the 86 who were killed in the train wreck perished in the first 35 seconds after the collision. Then, the wreckage caught on fire. There were also 127 injuries.
An Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) report following an investigation concluded
|“||This accident was caused by Engineman Sargent being asleep, and from this cause, failing to observe the stop indication of automatic signal 2581, and the warnings of the flagman of the circus train, and to be governed by them."||”|
The report was also critical of the older wooden-type circus train cars, whose oil lamps may have ignited the fire immediately after the collision.