(Sparks, Georgia – January 10, 2014)
The death of a Sparks, GA city employee who was accessing the city’s water treatment plant Friday at about 3:30 P.M. via a dangerous and unguarded railroad crossing that the city council had considered closing in the past has both voters and elected officials lamenting action not taken, but others asking what course of action could be taken due to limited access to the facility.
The still-unnamed 61-year-old Sparks resident was crossing at the Railroad Street/Epperson Way access road to the waste water plant when a Norfolk Southern freight train, one of a daily average of 25 trains which cross the intersection at top allowable timetable speeds of 60 mph, crushed the driver’s side of the city-owned Ford F-150 pickup truck, killing the driver instantly.
Georgia State Patrol Sgt. J.C. Roberts said the victim was ejected from the vehicle upon impact with the train, and confirmed that the Railroad Street/Epperson Way crossing had no active warning devices such as flashing lights, bells or crossing arms. It is virtually certain that lights and gates would have prevented this incident. Both Norfolk Southern and Operation Lifesaver know 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%.
One of the first citizens arriving at the scene was Sparks City Councilman Willie Pewee, who sadly viewed the deceased driver as he lamented action the Sparks City Council took earlier. “The railroad people wanted to close that section (crossing) off, but we voted to keep it open,” mainly because it was not equipped with lights or gates, instead having only standard, passive railroad cross-buck and highway “stop” signage, which has zero capability of alerting drivers to and thus protecting them from oncoming trains.
“All of them should have it (lights and gates),” commented Sparks resident Carlton Curtis to Albany, GA WALB-TV News 10 Reporter Colter Anstaett.
According to Federal Railroad Administration reports, the crossing had been the site of two previous accidents, neither of which resulted in injury or death.
Councilman Pewee guaranteed the status of the crossing would be a major topic of discussion at Monday night’s City Council meeting.
But Sparks Chief of Police Bob Meyers warned that closing, instead of protecting the crossing could have additional undesired effects upon city business. “I wouldn’t want to see that one shut down because it is our major access point to the treatment plant,” he told the WALB reporter. “Railroad Street that comes down the other side of the railroad track, that’s the only way to the plant other than that crossing,” he advised.