(Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin – September 7, 2016)
A truck driver operating an 18-wheeler with a box trailer loaded with empty storage bins had his vehicle struck and his trailer totaled Wednesday morning about 10:45 A.M., CDT at the gated and signalized grade crossing of BNSF rails and East Frederick Street in Prairie du Chien, WI. His truck was struck after a rail-mounted maintenance of way tamper failed to activate the signals and slipped into the trailer hauled by a 2003 International truck tractor owned by Moore’s Trucking. The driver, Lesley Lathrop, 56, of Gays Mills, WI, was unaware anything was approaching on the quadruple tracked BNSF main line that handles as many as 44 trains daily at the maximum allowable speed of 60 mph.
The tamper equipment, although smaller than a locomotive but much heavier than the empty semi it found unwarned and therefore in its way, did not stop or activate the signals. Strangely, the PDCPD failed to issue the eastbound tamper operator and BNSF employee, Zachary Berman, 29, of Spokane, WA, a citation. Even though police said that the semi driver had the right-of-way, Berman, the police report said, was working in a line of BNSF MOW track-mounted vehicles, and “As a result of the morning rain, the wet track became a factor in Berman’s attempt to slow down and stop the equipment.”
BNSF Spokeswoman and Director of Public Affairs Amy McBeth told Correne Martin of The Guttenberg Press that “BNSF is working with local law enforcement and is continuing to investigate the crash,” going on to explain that “equipment such as a tamper does not typically activate the gates and lights at railroad crossings and that drivers in such incidents are expected, in general, to yield to oncoming vehicles on the roadway.”
Numerous serious injuries and fatalities have resulted from similar careless operation of track-mounted rail equipment. An unidentified Moore’s Trucking spokeswoman surmised that “The situation could have been much worse. We’re just lucky no one was hurt,” although the truck driver was taken to Crossing Rivers Health Hospital as a precautionary matter.