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Train crash was déjà vu for Republican lawmakers who survived Virginia shooting

by Corky Siemaszko /  / Updated 
Emergency first responders and passengers carry one of the injured across train tracks to an ambulance after an Amtrak passenger train carrying Republican members of the U.S. Congress collided with a garbage truck in Crozet, Virginia.Justin Ide / Crozet Volunteer Fire Department via Reuters

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Seven months after he survived the shooting at a Virginia ball field that left House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and three others wounded, Sen. Jeff Flake dusted-off his first-aid skills again Wednesday to help a man who was badly hurt when a train carrying GOP lawmakers collided with a garbage truck.

And as Flake helped carry the man to a waiting ambulance, he was hit by a feeling of déjà vu.

“It was too familiar,” Flake, of Arizona, later told MSNBC.

 Emergency first responders and passengers carry one of the injured across train tracks to an ambulance after an Amtrak passenger train carrying Republican members of the U.S. Congress collided with a garbage truck in Crozet, Virginia. Justin Ide / Crozet Volunteer Fire Department via Reuters

Flake, who in June used a baseball jersey to stanch the bleeding of a wounded congressional staffer, was not alone in that feeling.

Several other lawmakers who had been on the field in Alexandria on June 17 when a gunman started shooting at the Republican congressional baseball team were also on the train Wednesday chugging to a retreat in West Virginia for a party confab.

Among them was Rep. Brad Wenstrup of Ohio, a podiatrist who served as a medic in Iraq and who helped saved Scalise’s life.

Wenstrup and two other doctors-turned-lawmakers, Rep. Michael Burgess of Texas and Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, worked on one of people who was on the truck, Rep. Roger Marshall of Kansas, who is an obstetrician, told MSNBC.

“Dr. Burgess and Dr. Wenstrup and Dr. Cassidy were trying to secure airways, access those injuries,” Marshall said.

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Wenstrup told MSNBC it was a struggle but they were "able to maintain and open airway."

"We put a neck brace on him and got him on a board," he said. "We're praying for him."

Meanwhile, Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee, who is also a doctor, was working on the truck driver who wound up dying.

“So I jumped in and helped Dr. Roe,” Marshall said. “We started CPR and worked on that person for several minutes, and it just didn’t go real well for that gentleman. We could just never get him resuscitated, I’m afraid.”

Asked to describe the man's injuries, Marshall said, “Just major, head trauma, internal trauma.”

“It’s just too gruesome to even talk about it,” he said.

 Passengers watch as emergency personnel operate work at the scene of a train crash involving a garbage truck in Crozet, Virginia on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018. An Amtrak passenger train carrying dozens of GOP lawmakers to a Republican retreat in West Virginia struck a garbage truck south of Charlottesville, Virginia. Zack Wajsgrasu / The Daily Progress via AP

Flake, who is not a physician, said the doctors were already working on the unconscious driver when he arrived.

“I got back pretty quickly, and they were doing CPR, at that point, but I don’t think he was ever conscious,” he said. “That’s my assumption. But they worked on him for quite a while, they tried everything with the paddles, but I don’t think he ever came to.”

Flake said when he spotted Wenstrup struggling to revive the other man, his mind reeled back to the Virginia ball field.

“As we were working on the injured, I’m just remembering it was Brad and I that were with Steve Scalise,” Flake said. “Brad was cutting away a coat so they could attach some of the equipment, it was very similar to what we were doing. Cutting away the clothing, so we could find a tourniquet. So it was too, too familiar.”

Flake said during a news conference later Wednesday afternoon from the retreat that he had hoped to never experience a day like the shooting ever again.

"I thought after that time I never want to experience a day like this again and unfortunately it came too soon," he said.

 Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. walks toward media gathered at the scene of a shooting at a baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia on June 14, 2017, during a Congressional baseball practice where House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of La. was shot. Kevin S. Vineys / AP

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