(Midland, Texas – January 5, 2013)
Although a long string of train/motor vehicle accidents temporarily stopped after the installation of crossing gates to the already-flashing light equipped crossing of Carver Street and Union Pacific Railroad tracks in the early 2000’s, an injury-resultant collision between a pickup truck and a UP freight train Saturday afternoon at about 5:30 P.M. raised eyebrows amongst witnesses to the near-tragedy and brought back bitter recollections of the November 15, 2012 accident in which four wounded U.S. servicemen died and another 16 participants received various injuries in Midland’s annual salute to wounded warriors, the “Show of Support” parade, as a flatbed semi-trailer truck carrying combat-wounded heroes and their wives was struck by a UPRR freight train traveling 62 mph at the Garfield Street crossing in Midland.
The UP/Carver Street crossing had been upgraded in 2001-2002 with the installation of crossing gates. Prior to that time, Federal Railroad Administration records indicate seven accidents had resulted in four non-fatal injuries, but no more had occurred until Saturday’s, when 60-year-old Benjamin Oaks of Midland apparently got his pickup truck momentarily stuck on the tracks at the crossing as a train approached and was unable to stop before striking the victim in his vehicle. The driver was transported to Midland Memorial Hospital with head injuries, and was also suspected of impaired driving according to Midland city spokesperson Sara Higgins.
But regardless of the driver’s actions or condition, the statements of eye-witnesses conflicted seriously with what was allegedly to be a 20-second period between the crossing’s signal activation and the train’s arrival time at the crossing.
“I didn’t hear it (the crossing bells), all I heard was the ‘boom’ and then we heard (saw) the lights,” said witness Patricia Hill, who lives directly across from the Carver Street/UP intersection. “Then the lights went off because I was standing in the yard,” she continued.
Supporting Patricia’s account of the crossing signal’s erratic operation was her brother, David Chapman, who said “I seen (saw) everything that was going on after he got hit,” Chapman recalled. “Then the lights started flashing and the ‘ding, ding, ding’ came on. It (the collision) had already happened.”
“Seeing it firsthand today, it’s devastating, it’s scary,” concluded Hill.
“But City Spokeswoman Higgins was dismissive of the eye-witness statements, countering that “This is just like any other accident for the Midland Police Department. Someone was driving while intoxicated and there was a crash,” Higgins explained.