(Ogden, Arkansas – January 21, 2016)
Two Arkansas residents, a 37-year-old and a 10-year-old, are both dead after the eastbound 2007 Hyundai in which they were riding with a 66-year-old female driver, was struck on the passenger side and demolished by a northbound Kansas City Southern freight train at the dangerous, unguarded and acutely-angled crossing of Pine Street in the small community of Ogden Thursday afternoon at about 5:27 P.M., CST.
The child, identified as 10-year-old Braden Miller, was killed on impact, while Bobby Burris, the 37-year-old front passenger seat occupant, who was a family friend, died an hour after being taken to the Little River Memorial Hospital in Ashdown, AR. The driver, Linda Hobbs, was flown to Christus St. Michael Health System in Texarkana, TX, where she was being treated for what were described as “life-threatening injuries”.
According to Federal Railroad Administration information, the Pine Street/KCS crossing accommodates a daily average of 20 KCS trains roll through at a top allowable speed of 55 mph. Yet, the crossing lacks any form of active warning devices, such as lights and gates. It is virtually certain that if this crossing was equipped with lights and gates, this tragedy would not have happened. Both KCS and Operation Lifesaver know that 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%.
“Our hearts go out to the family in the accident,” said Little River County Sheriff Gary Gregory. “It was a tragic incident.”
Meanwhile, Braden’s parents, John and Amber Braswell, who live next to the KCS tracks and had just watched their son being picked up by Hobbs and the man they referred to as “Uncle Bobby”, were reeling from the tragedy. “He was a good kid. He was only 10 years old. They were just going to see a basketball game,” sobbed the grief-stricken father to KSLA-TV, Channel 12 Shreveport, LA Reporter Marlene Mendoza in an interview Friday. “How are we going to take care of it,” he lamented to Mendoza, referring to pending funeral arrangements. “You know we can’t afford it.”
On Friday, students were in class but in mourning at the school Braden attended, L.F. Henderson Intermediate School in Ashdown. “This is a very difficult time for our school,” said Ashdown Supt. of Schools Jason Sanders. “We will be providing extra support, and extra counselors will be available as long as they are needed,” he told the KSLA reporter.
While as Channel 12 video cameras rolled, a KCS diesel locomotive with a single car in tow flew by the scene of the tragedy as Burris’s relatives gathered to try to make sense of the accident. “It hurts bad to see such a tragedy happen to him,” said his sister, Shanette Bells. “It just – words can’t express how I feel.” But Burris’s uncle, Jewell Howard, Jr,, who himself survived a railroad grade crossing collision in 2009, found words of action as he promised “I’m gonna get with the (authorities), we’re gonna find a way; They don’t have no (any) crossing (gates or lights). I’m gonna see something happen!”
As Pine Street approaches the single-tracked KCS line and, only a few yards beyond, dead-ends into the railroad-paralleling U.S. Highway 59/71 four-laned thoroughfare, it is crossed by the KCS at an extremely (less than 30 degrees) acute angle, restricting the sight distance for an eastbound motorist, while the driver’s view of trains approaching from the south is partially blocked by a long row of trees that stand parallel to the railroad line a short distance south of the road/rail intersection.
On January 20, 2002, a motorist died from being struck by a KCS train at the same crossing. A third, earlier accident was non-injury.
“They need some arms here, some crossing lights, something,” despaired Braden’s parents to KSLA, admitting that “We’ve ‘bout got hit a few times here.”
But Channel 12 reported that Ogden Mayor Sandra Furlow said she contacted KCS about two years ago, asking for improved signals at the Pine Street crossing, but was told that the location was “not a priority”.
The Ogden Volunteer Fire Dept. responded to the tragedy, and Arkansas State Police Sgt. Robert D. Wilson was aided by the Little River County Sheriff’s Office in investigating the crash.