(Evans City, Pennsylvania – April 26, 2013)
Tragically, Friday morning’s collision between a minibus carrying 10 special needs and elderly adults between the ages of 26 and 92 at the dangerous, unguarded crossing of Maple Avenue and CSX/B&PRR railroad tracks in Evans City, PA, about 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, PA, has now become a fatality situation with the post-crash death of Claudette Lee Miller, 91.
Mrs. Miller was one of three women and eight men who suffered various injuries in the tragedy, which occurred in heavy fog and at a crossing where an estimated three-to-four trains cross a two-lane public road without any active protection devices such as flashing lights, bells or crossing gates, systems which railroads claim could prevent over 90% of such accidents. But without their presence Friday morning about 8:10 A.M., the bus driver and his 10 passengers were helpless.
Although federal regulations, which seem to assume locomotive engineers and train crews can never be at fault any more than the railroads who refuse to protect their crossings based upon “federal pre-emption” or the state agencies who consider potentially life-saving signals an insufficient amount of risk to authorize the installment of such active systems, prevented any substance abuse testing of the rail employees operating the train, bus driver Frank Schaeffner, 60, of Butler, PA, was required by police to give a blood sample as he was being treated for his injuries at Butler Memorial Hospital.
Police sources said that while they were still investigating why the driver stopped his vehicle afoul of the railroad tracks, they were also looking into the strong possibility that Friday’s thick morning fog was a factor in the now-fatal accident.
One of the emergency physicians treating the injured, Dr. Allan Philp of Allegheny General Hospital said that the victims suffered the kind of injuries that would be expected in a high-impact crash.
“Any time you say ‘train’, that’s a significant amount of energy that’s transferred from one vehicle to another, and, unfortunately, to the passengers contained in those vehicles,” Dr. Philp explained.
In regard to the serious nature of the injuries, Dr. Philp said “We really just saw the spectrum—brain injuries, facial injuries, chest injuries, abdomen and pelvis injuries, long bone injuries, meaning legs, arms, that sort of thing. At least one of the patients – the more critically ill—seems to have been thrown.”
It was not known if the situation involved the now-deceased victim, but a woman who identified herself as the granddaughter of a 90-year-old woman on the bus told WPXI-TV that her grandmother had been destined for the geriatric care program at “Lifesteps”, a non-profit, public service agency which provides services to young and old, children to retirees, and to special needs adults such as many of those who were aboard the ill-fated bus.
The bus, meanwhile, was owned and operated by Butler Area Rural Transit, which partners with programs such as Lifesteps to provide lower-cost transportation to those who can benefit from the services provided by such agencies.