(Thomasville, North Carolina – March 29, 2013)
A junior student at Thomasville, NC High School lost his life shortly after his 18th birthday Tuesday evening at about 7:10 P.M. as he walked along a double-track Norfolk Southern railroad line and was struck by a New York-to-Charlotte, NC Amtrak train travelling at 79 mph.
Paul Anthony Taylor was struck near East Main Street in downtown Thomasville, less than five minutes from his home. His death was the second train-related fatality in Thomasville in the last eight months.
Investigators are attempting to determine how far away from the victim the train was before the engineer put it into emergency braking mode, as well as how many times the train’s horn was sounded as it bore down upon him, explained Thomasville Police Dept. Detective Brad Saintsing, who added that Amtrak often has its own investigators and has a “black box” similar to those on airplanes. There was also speculation that Taylor may have been wearing an MP3 player and might have been hampered in hearing the approaching train.
“It’s tough. It’s been rough on everybody,” related Thomasville High School Principal Deboy Beamon, who said he called Taylor’s parents to offer his condolences after learning of the tragedy. “He was a good kid, your typical teenager,” Beamon added. “He was very intelligent . He had taken JROTC and honors classes. He was very capable.”
Oddly, Federal Railroad Administration records reveal that sometime in the not-too-distant past, train speeds for the 22 trains that daily travel along the double-track rail corridor were raised from a maximum 35 mph to the present allowable 79 mph used by Amtrak passenger trains. How such a significant increase in speed was permitted by the FRA is not revealed in its records, most of which rely upon often questionable criteria developed by the railroads and their personnel themselves. As a federal, interstate entity, neither Amtrak nor most railroad companies can have their speeds regulated by the communities through which they rocket.
More than 120 friends, classmates and relatives gathered Friday night at a parking lot on Main Street, adjacent to the site of Tuesday’s tragedy for a vigil in honor of their fallen friend.
Curtis Legg, Taylor’s aunt of Cleveland, NC, remorsed that “I’m going to miss him, my nephew,” and cautioned other parents that “If you have children, keep them close to you. Tomorrow is not guaranteed for anyone.”
Maggie Wesner, one of Taylor’s teachers when he attended Oak Hill Elementary School, said that “He was special then, and he is special now.” She then urged those present to donate to help defray the victim’s funeral expenses.
As mourners comforted the boy’s parents, Tammy and Akil Ramsey, crying and hugging those near, Thomasville HS teacher J. Lynn Beasley, who had organized the memorial service, said “This is for Paul. We loved him dearly.”
Attendees held candles and erected a bouquet of pink roses near the tracks where Paul died, and as the vigil progressed, at least five trains passed the mourners.
High School Principal Beamon summed up the tragedy by stating “He (Taylor) was the total package. In our minds, we can’t understand why this happened. We never will. The school leader further warned the gathering that “Just because you are young doesn’t mean that death will bypass you. Death knows no age!”