(Smiths Station, Alabama – July 28, 2014)
A Smiths Station, AL high school teacher driving her Nissan Pathfinder SUV was struck, spun and struck again by a Norfolk Southern freight train as she left for lunch at about 12:21 P.M., EDT Monday after spending the morning preparing her classroom for the school’s August 5 opening.
Vivian Martin, who has taught Genetics and Forensic Science at SSHS for the past 14 years, was flown by helicopter to Midtown Medical Center in Columbus, GA following the wreck, which necessitated use of the “jaws of life” to extricate the victim from her totaled vehicle. WBRC-TV, Fox News Channel 6 Reporter Courtney Smith remarked that “Looking at the damage, it’s amazing to think that anyone could have survived this crash.”
The Jones Road/CR 927 intersection with NS railroad track is not equipped with any active warning devices, such as lights and gates, which could have given warning of approaching trains to Mrs. Martin and other motorists, especially students and school bus drivers who must cross there every day when school is in session.
But the real error of omission was the fact that, according to public record and news media sources, “The Lee County Commission has been trying to install crossing arms, flashing lights and a bell at the intersection across from SSHS since 2011,” according to WRBL-TV News 3 Columbus, GA Reporter Jessi Mitchell.
Mitchell went on to confirm that “After Monday’s accident, the commission added an item to the agenda to review where the new safety measures stand. “
Lee County Commissioner Robert Ham told the TV reporter that the cost of the installation, said to be $250,000, had been the subject of a funding agreement between the school board and the commission “six months ago.”
“The plan was to put the crossing arms in before school starts August 5,” Ham said, “it’s going to happen, and that’s good news. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen quick enough for Ms. Martin. Had that cross arm been there, had already been in place, she would not have been able to pull her car too close to the track,” Commissioner Ham concluded.
The action also came too late for a pair of local men, ages 68 and 49, who were injured at the same crossing January 31, 2013, when their vehicle was struck at the same road/rail crossing.
According to the Federal Railroad Administration, six NS trains cross there daily at a top allowable speed of 50 mph, mixing their paths with a daily average of four school buses loaded with students and over 600 highway vehicles, many driven by students and faculty members.