Skip to Main Content
Railroad News

Daughter Witnesses Father’s Death at Dangerous, Unguarded CN Crossing

By Pottroff & Karlin LLC |

(Clark County, Wisconsin – June 18, 2013)

The horror of witnessing a fatal train/car accident was magnified many times over about 9:15 A.M. Tuesday morning in Clark County, WI, just south of the community of Unity, WI, when the death of an 81-year-old father, whose vehicle was struck and destroyed by a Canadian National freight train at the dangerous and unguarded crossing of Century Road and CN railroad tracks, was eye witnessed by the victim’s daughter, who was following him in another vehicle, and whose name was not provided by investigators.

Charles S. Podbelsek of Spencer, WI was driving eastbound on Century Road in his 1994 Dodge Grand Caravan when he collided with the southbound CN freight train, one of a daily average of 25 trains of two railroads (CN and Union Pacific) which cross there at a maximum allowable speed of 60 mph. The victim’s van was thrown south of the crossing, overturned onto its roof, and totally destroyed as the force of the crash threw Podbelsek from his wrecked vehicle. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The accident was not the first, but the fourth at the crossing which has no active warning devices such as lights or gates, but instead is marked only by standard, passive railroad cross-buck and highway “yield” signs. The CN railroad tracks parallel Wisconsin Highway 13 (Basswood Avenue), separated only by a few feet, for a considerable distance in that part of Clark County, and reports that the crossing also had highway stop signs were incorrect, as the stop sign governing the direction in which the victim was traveling is for Highway 13 and is located several feet beyond the railroad tracks. There is a stop sign for the crossing in the westbound direction. The most recent previous accident occurred little more than a year ago when a non-injury car/train collision occurred on April 22, 2012.

Heavy underbrush and trees block sight distance triangles on both eastbound quadrants of the crossing, making oncoming trains difficult to see when a motorist approaches the crossing in the direction the victim did.

As previously mentioned, this incident happened at a dangerous, unguarded crossing. It is virtually certain that lights and gates would have prevented this incident. Both Union Pacific, Canadian National, 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 can gates offer the ability to drastically reduce the number of vehicle/train accidents by as much as 96%.

Responding to the tragedy were Clark County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Jim Backus, troopers of the Wisconsin State Patrol, and Spencer, WI fire and emergency response personnel.

Chief Deputy Backus told the Wausau Daily Herald that, because of the town of Unity having eight railroad crossings within or near its city limits, he believed that “it would be too expensive to install signals and guard arms at each one.”


Railroad News


Train crash cases are unique and complex with many different potential pitfalls, such as federal preemption. Anytime I get hired or even get a call from a train crash victim, my very first call is to Nathan’s firm. Nathan’s knowledge and experience in handling and trying cases against these litigation savvy railroad companies gives me the confidence to know that the clients and cases I refer to him are getting the best of the best.

James Perrin Lubbock, Texas

I have had the opportunity to work as co-counsel with Nathan on several railroad crossing accidents cases. In each case, Nathan always possessed an incredible knowledge of the law and the facts, possessed a great talent for aggressive - strategic legal planning and trial tactics while, at the same time, displaying great skill as an effective negotiator. I would recommend him to anyone without hesitation.

Scott McCluen Harriman, Tennessee

Nathan Karlin has my strongest endorsement in the field of railroad crossing cases and personal injury law. I had the pleasure of working with Nathan in a complex railroad personal injury case. I was impressed by Nathan’s knowledge, his work ethic, and his dedication to the client. I look forward to working with Nathan on future injury matters. I am also aware firsthand that he has obtained excellent trial and settlement results in numerous cases involving members of the public harmed by railroad companies.

Joseph M. Miller Mandeville, Louisiana

Nathan is a warrior fighting the railroads. As a fellow personal injury lawyer, I have constantly been impressed with his depth of knowledge and his capabilities from case to case. I’d take him into battle with me any day against the biggest railroads and insurance companies on the planet.

Jon C. Clark Austin, Texas

Bob Pottroff has fought for the victims of the railroads’ callous disregard for safety more than any other attorney that I know. I should know because I am currently Chair-elect of the Railroad Section of ATLA.

Robert Schuetze Boulder, Colorado

Mr. Pottroff has shaken the rail industry to its very roots. Settlements are now more common as a result of the way he has exposed the industry’s wrongdoing.

Mike Easley Arkansas

Bob Pottroff’s work in railroad safety law is unmatched and he has been the source of great advice and phenomenal creativity.

Roger Brown Jefferson City, Missouri

In addition to his substantive contributions to railroad grade crossing safety, I have personally observed his untiring efforts and contributions to improving the integrity of the legal system.

Elizabeth Hardy Lake Charles, Louisiana

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8