(Biloxi, Mississippi March 7, 2017)
The Biloxi, MS humped intersection of CSX Railroad tracks and Main Street, a crossing which witness Mark Robinson labeled as has been a problem for years, became the site of a tragedy Tuesday at about 2:14 P.M when a collision killed four and injured 35 aboard a tour bus. Biloxi Chief of Police John Miller called the first time Biloxi has had a tragedy of this magnitude. The tragic accident occurred when an eastbound CSX freight train consisting of three locomotives hauling 52 cars, plowed into a tour bus loaded with senior riders on a weeks tour of southern casinos and scenic sights. According to several witnesses, the bus had become hung up on the significantly humped crossing.
The bus, carrying seniors from several Austin, TX-area centers and organized by the Bastrop (TX) Senior Center, was carrying 50 passengers and driven by an employee of Echo Transportation, a Texas-based charter bus transportation company owned by the Grand Prairie, TX-headquartered TBL Group.
The bus driver, who was not identified by name, was said to be alert and communicating verbally with rescuers. The rescuers had to employ The Jaws of Life to extricate at least two passengers. Those individuals were unable to exit for nearly 30 minutes after the bus was struck and shoved nearly 100 yards down the track.
Eyewitness Robinson said he saw passengers evacuating the bus as the train bore down upon it, and some of them were trapped under the bus when the train hit it.
Austin TV station KVUE reported that Julia Clark of American Medical Response in Harrison County, MS told them that there were 10 survivors listed in critical condition, 10 others in serious condition, and another 15 injured whom she referred to as walking wounded. She also confirmed the three deaths at the site and a fourth death having been suffered after the patient was brought to the hospital. The 35 injured victims were scattered among three area hospitals.
Among the non-injured were Jim DeLaCruz and his wife, who were seated in back of the bus. He told the Sun-Herald that We were going northbound and the bus tried to clear the tracks and got stuck right in the middle and it couldnt budge. He added that when the train became evident, the train just kept coming and kept coming.
The crash was the 18th such accident to occur at the Main Street/CSX crossing, the previous 17 of which had amassed a death toll of two to go with the suffering of four non-fatal injuries. The road/rail intersection, which is equipped with flashing lights, crossing gates and signs warning of its low ground clearance condition, accommodates a daily average of 10 CSX freight trains which travel at maximum allowable speeds of 45 mph.
The Biloxi Sun-Herald noted that A month ago, the Biloxi City Council announced the city is planning on closing six of its 22 crossings, but did not indicate if Main Street was among the closure candidates.
Tuesdays tragedy had plenty of predictive events, as The Sun-Herald indicated that the most recent accident to occur there was January 5, when a semi hauling Pepsi-Cola products became lodged onto the crossing. After failing to be able to move his truck, the driver went to call for police assistance, only to hear a train approaching the crossing. In reporting on the ensuing accident, The Times-Herald quoted Biloxi Police Dept. Sgt. Jackie Rhodes as saying that The crossing at Main Street is so high that if trucks dont cross it fast enough, they can get stuck.
Meanwhile, the newspaper reported that last March an incident occurred at the same crossing in which another tour bus with 28 people on board became stuck on the same crossing, but was able to be removed without any trains becoming involved.
Multi-lane Esters Street parallels the CSX tracks on both sides, and very little space is available for vehicles, especially long-framed ones like buses and large trucks, to be able to exit Esters and negotiate the CSX grade crossing.
Barbara Adkins of the Bastrop Senior Center said many of the tour participants were from Bastrop, but others came from Austin and some were picked up in Sealy, TX.
The Bastrop Center had helped organize the trip, which left Bastrop on Sunday with a planned return next Saturday. Participants were on the third day of the tour and were headed for the Boomtown Casino in Biloxi after stops in New Orleans and the Hollywood Casino Gulf Coast in Bay St. Louis, LA.