(Rochester, New York – September 8, 2013)
A legally blind grandmother, who routinely crossed what could be defined as a rail superhighway three to four times daily, was killed Sunday afternoon at about 5:30 P.M. at the closed crossing of Colvin Street and CSX railroad tracks when she was struck by an Amtrak passenger train operating at or near 79 mph.
Patsy Hickman, 52, who had recently moved to a Rochester, NY neighborhood intended for hearing impaired children and adults, usually had assistance from her family members or friends as she crossed CSX double tracks between the stubbed ends of Colvin Street, which crossing was closed several years ago, but which still is regularly used by pedestrian traffic despite its closure. Some of the pedestrian traffic is headed for a store on the north side of the railroad tracks. Meanwhile, according to Federal Railroad Administration reports, a daily average of 46 trains, both CSX freight and Amtrak passenger, roll through the rail corridor at speeds as high as 79 mph.
The victim was taken to Strong Hospital in Rochester where she succumbed to her injuries a short time later. “She used to tell us she was scared of the silent trains,” family friend Megan Cartwright told WHEC-TV, Channel 10, the NBC affiliate in Rochester. “She couldn’t hear them coming and she was afraid to cross. She always had me and Tiffany walk her across.”
Relatives of the victim complained to WHEC reporters that it is often difficult to hear the approaching trains until they were right nearby, a condition reporters from the TV station witnessed themselves as they reported on the tragedy Sunday evening.
“We saw three or four trains that went past and we didn’t see them coming until they got to the (utility) pole right there,” noted Tashonda Dove, the victim’s niece. “You know by that time it’s too late (to take evasive action). They need to make it better out here. They need to make it better for someone who can’t see,” Dove concluded.
WHEC-TV investigative reporters noted that “On both sides of the tracks, there are ‘no trespass’ signs, but branches and leaves make it almost impossible to spot the one on the north side. While News 10NBC was out at the tracks, we saw a number of people crossing, including children.”
Although there is a fence along the north side of the tracks, it was evidently cut open by someone several years ago to enable pedestrian passage and never repaired. The security breech is not something of which CSX is unaware according to Robert Chandler, whose “Helping Hands” backs up to the fence. He said that the Rochester Police Dept. had a police officer out writing tickets to people who crossed there, and RPD confirmed the fact, but added that it was not a location where an officer was regularly assigned.
Another business owner, John Turner, whose company not only backs up to the damaged fence, but is adjacent to the hole utilized by pedestrians to pass through it, says he and his business partner have repeatedly called the railroad’s attention to the compromised fence. “My partner has sent CSX letters, and we’ve called them two or three times. They said they’d send somebody the next day, but they never send anybody,” Turner told a reporter from WHAM-TV, Channel 13. “I’ve gone out on the tracks and talked to the workers and found out who was the foreman and said, ‘can you do something about this – at least make it harder for them to get through here?’” But Turner’s efforts have been in vain.
“It’s very frustrating. We’ve quit sending CSX letters. I saw them out there about three weeks ago and was going to go out there and talk to them, but what’s the sense?” Turner lamented. “I’ve talked to them four to five times and they’ve done nothing. I know the guy will shake his head yes, yes, yes, but when I look out there a few days later, nothings been done; I mean, they didn’t even try to do anything.”
Documented foreknowledge of the failure of or damage to a safety system can be damning to any corporate entity, but WHAM-TV said a spokesperson from CSX told them “We extend our thoughts and condolences to all those affected by yesterday’s tragic accident. CSX is working with local authorities investigating the accident and, as we do with any accident, we will review the facts.”