The Coroner's Jury

A jury was assembled on Saturday, December 30, the day following the accident.  The following Ashtabula citizens of  were chosen: H. L. Morrison, T. D. Faulkner, Edward G. Pierce, George W. Dickinson, Henry H. Perry, and F. A. Pettibone.  Edward W. Richards, justice of the peace, was the acting coroner, and Theodore Hall was chosen as the jury's counsel.  These gentleman immediately began an investigation, which was to last sixty eight days, in search of the facts relavent to the cause of this tragedy.

Verdict of the Coroner's Jury

First.  That at about 7:30 in the evening of Friday, December 29, 1876, the iron bridge in the railroad of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway Company, spanning Ashtabula creek near Ashtabula station, on said railroad, gave way under the two locomotives and express car, forming the forward portion of the west bound passenger train on said railroad known as No. 5, and fell as the leading locomotive passed on to the west abutment, leaving a chasm about sixty feet in depth between the abutments of said bridge, into which the baggage and passenger cars in said train following said express car were precipitated.

Second.  That in their fall, the cars were partially destroyed by crushing, and their destruction was completed by a conflagration immediately following, kindled by fire from their stoves.

Third.  That the fall of the bridge was the result of defects and errors made in designing, constructing, and erecting it; that a great defect, and one which appears in many parts of the structure, was the dependence of every member for its efficient action upon the probability that all or nearly all the others would retain their position and do the duty for which they were designed, instead of giving to each member a positive connection with the rest, which nothing but a direct rupture could sever.  The members of each truss were, instead of being fastened together, rested one upon the other, as illustrated by the following particulars: the deficient cross-section of portions of the top chords and some of the main braces, and insufficient lugs or flanges to keep the ends of the main and counter braces from slipping out of place; in the construction of the packing and yokes used in binding together the main and counter braces at the points where they crossed each other in the shimming of the top chords to compensate deficient length of some of their members; in the placing, during the process of erection, of thick beams where the plan required thin ones, and thin ones where it required thick ones.

Fourth.  That the railway company used and continued to use this bridge for about eleven years, during all which time a careful inspection by a competent bridge engineer could not have failed to discover all these defects.  For the neglect of such careful inspection, the railway company alone is responsible.

Fifth.  That the responsibility of this fearful disaster and its consequent loss of life rests upon the railway company, which, by its chief executive officer, planned and erected this bridge.

Sixth.  That the cars in which said deceased passengers were carried into said chasm were not heated by heating apparatus so constructed that the fire in it will be immediately extinguished whenever the cars are thrown from the track and overturned.  That their failure to comply with the plain provisions of the law places the responsibility of the origin of the fire upon the railway company.

Seventh.  That the responsibility for not putting out the fire at the time it first made its appearance in the wreck rests upon those who were the first to arrive at the scene of the disaster, and who seemed to have been so overwhelmed by the fearful calamity that they lost all presence of mind and failed to use the means at hand, consisting of the steam pump in the pumping house and the fire engine "Lake Erie" and its hose, which might have been attached to the steam pump in time to save life.  The steamer belonging to the fire department and also "Protection" fire engine were hauled more than a mile through a blinding snow storm and over roads rendered almost impassable by drifted snow, and arrived on the ground too late to save human life; but nothing should have prevented the chief fireman from making all possible efforts to extinguished what fire then remained.  For his failure to do this he is responsible. 

Eighth.  That the persons deceased, before mentioned, whose bodies were identified, and whose bodies and parts of bodies were unidentified, came to their deaths by the precipitation of the aforesaid cars, in which they were riding, into the chasm in the valley of Ashtabula creek left by the falling of the bridge as aforesaid, and the crushing and burning of said cars aforesaid; for all of which the railway company is responsible.

Return to the Ashtabula Bridge Disaster Page