The accident took place when a section of the Santa Fe Railroad’s California Limited line stopped on a downgrade to make a brake adjustment, and was plowed by another California Limited train just outside of Flagstaff, AZ. Sleeping passengers were rattled from their berths as cars were knocked off the rails. Mrs. Ernest Watson, the wife of a Hollywood firefighter, was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident, while dozens of other injured passengers and railroad employees were shuttled to nearby Mercy Hospital in Flagstaff. Twenty-five of the most seriously wounded were transferred back to Los Angeles. Two of them, Lee Evans, a dining car waiter, and Mrs. Robert L. Vivian, the wife of a retired minister, died en route. Or so it seemed, for the rumors of Evans’s demise were greatly exaggerated. A few days after his death was reported, he was found alive and more or less well.
An inquest by the Coroner’s jury in Flagstaff found evidence of negligence, but could not place blame conclusively. The jury recommended a full investigation to be carried out Arizona state officials. Arizona passed the buck to the Interstate Commerce Commission who, after a month-long investigation, found the engineer of the second trail negligent for failing to heed caution signals. Simmons was his name.