(Lawton, Michigan – December 19, 2017)
Less than a week before Christmas, a Bronson, MI mother was left grieving her second family member in barely six months after a Port Huron-bound Amtrak “Blue Water Service” train with 215 passengers on board struck a pickup truck driven by her 17-year-old son. The motorist was attempting to free his vehicle from being stuck on Amtrak-owned and operated rails at the extremely narrow and angular Nursery Street crossing in Lawton, MI Tuesday night about 7:30 P.M., EST. when it was struck by a train.
Police said Tyler Wirtz could be heard revving his engine as he attempted to free the impaled pickup. No train was in view when the member of the Bronson High School varsity bowling team attempted to cross the railroad track and had his Ford F-150 hang up on the narrow road/rail intersection. However, when the train came into view, he attempted to get out of the vehicle and escape the path of the train. Tragically, he did not have enough time and the son of Sarah Howard was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
The Nursery Street crossing where nine daily Amtrak passenger and Norfolk Southern freight trains pass daily at authorized speeds as high as 110 mph was equipped with flashing lights, bells and crossing gates after two non-injury crashes between Amtrak trains and highway vehicles during prior Conrail ownership, but signalization was no cure for crossing approaches and high asphalt road shoulders so narrow it could barely qualify as a two-lane driveway.
In addition, the extremely acute angle of the narrow crossing created a potentially hazardous crossing which caught up with its poor design Tuesday night.
Tyler had been the chief comforter for his mother after her husband, Derek Howard, lost a 10-month battle with melanoma cancer in July. “He helped Sarah get through Derek’s passing,” Cousin Caitlin Adkins told WOOD-TV, Channel 8’s Brady Gillum.
Tyler’s grief-stricken mother told Gillum that she was “in total disbelief”, adding that her son “was my shoulder to cry on.”