Spanish train driver's declaration delayed

YESICA FISCH
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EDS NOTE : SPANISH LAW REQUIRES THAT THE FACES OF MINORS ARE MASKED IN PUBLICATIONS WITHIN SPAIN - Spain's Crown Prince Felipe, top and Princess Letizia, stand with children in the village of Angrois, near the train crash site just outside of Santiago de Compostela, Spain, Friday July 26, 2013. The Spanish royals met with the villagers, some who were first on the scene to help pull passengers out of the wreckage. Investigators have taken possession of the “black boxes” of the Spain train that hurtled at high-speed along a curve and derailed, killing 80 people, a court official said Friday. (AP Photo/Brais Lorenzo)

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain (AP) — The arrested driver of the Spanish train that derailed at high speed, killing 78 and injuring dozens more, is still in the hospital and won't appear before a judge as hoped on Saturday, delaying a hotly awaited opportunity for his official explanation for Spain's deadliest crash in decades.

Blame has increasingly fallen on the driver, with the country's railway agency saying it was his responsibility to brake before going into the high-risk curve where the train tumbled off the rails and smashed into a wall. But it's still not clear whether the brakes failed or were never used, and the driver has remained silent so far.

Francisco Jose Garzon Amo remains under arrest in the hospital on suspicion of recklessness. A blood-soaked Garzon was photographed Wednesday being escorted away from the wreckage, at first by civilians who had hurried to the scene of the accident and then by police, but it is not clear just what his medical status is.

Unconfirmed media reports said that Garzon had injured ribs.

The justice department had said that Garzon would likely testify before a judge Saturday, but said in a statement it intended now to wait until the 52-year-old is able to appear in court rather than having a judge come to his hospital bedside.

He had been expected to give a preliminary statement to judicial police as early as Thursday, but that process was delayed, reportedly due to health reasons.

In Wednesday's crash, the train's eight carriages packed with 218 passengers blazed far over the speed limit into a curve and violently tipped over. Diesel fuel powering the engine sent flames coursing through some cabins.

The president of Adif, the Spanish rail agency, said that the driver should have started slowing the train 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) before the dangerous bend. He said signs clearly marked this point when the driver must begin to slow.

Normally, police take a first statement that is then examined by an investigating judge who must then take testimony within 72 hours of the arrest. That deadline is Sunday, suggesting that Garzon will make some sort of declaration before a judge then.

Although the court hearing would be closed, it would give hints about the status of the investigation. The judge would decide whether to jail the driver as an official suspect, release him on bail, or release him without charges. If a judge finds sufficient evidence for a criminal trial, the suspect will be charged and a trial date set.