(Mer Rouge, Louisiana – June 21, 2014)
“Another life has been claimed at the Union Pacific railroad crossing in front of Kennedy Rice Dryers in Mer Rouge, LA,” reported Bastrop Daily Enterprise News Writer Ashley Mott in Sunday morning’s edition of the Louisiana newspaper.
Killed in a collision with a UPRR freight train just before 7:00 A.M. was Charlie Pete Chism, 67, of Mer Rouge, who was an employee of Kennedy Rice Dryers who was just returning from a trip to the Food Fast convenience store to pick up drinks and food for the workers at the rice dryer facility. As reported by Ms. Mott, the fatality was not the first.
The dangerous, unguarded crossing that leads into the facility just off Highway 165 (commonly known as the Wilmot Highway), which parallels UPRR tracks for a considerable distance through Morehouse Parish has a tragic fatal history. Yet, the crossing is still not guarded with any active warning devices, such as lights and gates. It is virtually certain that lights and gates would have prevented this tragedy. Both Union Pacific and Operation Lifesaver know lights and gates are the most effective type of protection at railroad crossings. Studies that have been conducted over fifty years ago confirm that lights and gates offer the ability to drastically reduce the number of vehicle/train accidents by as much as 96%.
Participating in the accident investigation were officers of the Louisiana State Police, Morehouse Parish Sheriff’s Office and Mer Rouge Police Dept.
The earlier tragedy to which the Bastrop Daily Enterprise writer referred was either a May or March 12, 2012 (newspaper and railroad records disagree) accident which killed two female occupants of a van and seriously injured a third when they collided with a 48-car UPRR freight train being pulled by a pair of locomotives. The driver, Christina Vazquez Casarez, 39, and one of her passengers, Juana Vazquez, 31, both died in the crash at the same dangerous, unguarded crossing. No name or age was provided for the individual who survived the carnage.
According the Union Pacific provided information about this crossing provided to the Federal Railroad Administration, Union Pacific claimed there were no daily trains crossing at the intersection, but those that did, did so at a maximum speed of 25 mph. Yet, information produced by the railroad in regard to an adjacent public crossing showed that a daily average of 20 trains cross there at a maximum allowable speed of 60 mph.