(Portland, Arkansas – July 3, 2015)
A well-known and long-time resident died just a few minutes before noon Friday morning as she drove her 2009 Toyota westbound across a dangerous and unguarded Union Pacific Railroad crossing on Ashley County, AR Road 53 (Gay Lane) and was struck and killed by a UPRR freight train.
Betty Gay Shuler, 82, whose community service, small business and journalistic career spanned well over half a century of serving her Portland and Ashley County neighbors was clearly headed home as she exited U.S. Highway 165 onto the road named for her family (Gay Lane) as well as numbered by the county (CR 53). Union Pacific Railroad tracks parallel the highway, offering very little vehicular storage space between the rails and the highway, and the victim may not have realized the train was approaching since the crossing is equipped is not equipped with any active warning devices, such as lights and gates.
It is virtually certain that if this crossing was equipped with lights and gates, this accident would not have happened. Both Union Pacific 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%.
Mrs. Gay-Shuler leaves behind four grieving grandchildren as well as four great-grandchildren. She had operated the “Gay Grab Bag” store for three decades, wrote the Portland news column for The Ashley County Ledger for 50 years, helped the community through the writing of numerous government grants for funding of charitable organizations, and served the Portland United Methodist Church as a speaker, Sunday School teacher, youth leader and missionary in both foreign and domestic situations.
The victim was pronounced dead at the scene by Ashley County Coroner Steve Hartshorn as Arkansas State Police Corporal Mitch Grant served as investigative law enforcement officer. The same crossing was the site of an earlier, non-injury train/vehicle accident in October, 2006.