(Crystal Springs, Mississippi – April 7, 2020)
The dangerous and unguarded Canadian National railroad crossing of Hartley Lane in Crystal Springs, MS, was authorized for installation of flashing light signals and crossing gates long before the deadly collision two Sunday evening’s ago. That collision resulted in the deaths of two women who were headed for home. The victims became the fourth and fifth fatalities recorded at the crossing.
The tragic history of the crossing begs the question why the railroad had not installed timely installed the lights and gates. The railroad crossing has experienced at least three fatalities over a 10-year span, but has continued to accommodate a dozen daily CN freight and Amtrak passenger trains at speeds as high as 79 mph. To this day, the crossing was is not equipped with any active warning devices, such as lights and gates.
Family, community, and government officials all seem to agree that the deaths of Lori Jackson, 38, and Kenya Brown, 35, both of Crystal Springs, should never have happened. Nor should the three fatalities and five non-fatal injuries that preceded last Sunday’s crash. Jackson, MS-based TV stations ran a pair of articles within the week following the tragic accident. All seemed to aim at the lack of responsible action by the railroad and local road authority. “After decades of deadly accidents at the Hartley Lane crossing and years of begging for better safety measures there, they still had to lose the ones they loved,” commented the WLBT reporters.
The sentiment was pointed. “We don’t want to lose no one else,” Kenya’s sister-in-law Sabrina Stubbs told WLBT-TV’s Therese Apel and ShaCamree Gowdy. ”I love her so much, and we’re going to miss her” lamented Kenya’s father, Ramond Brown.
It was Kenya’s god-sister Michelle Harris who introduced the problem, saying “It’s been approved, like last year,” she said of the lights and gates. “It’s something that should have been done,” agreed Lori Jackson’s cousin Joseph Buckner . “How many times we gotta lose family members out of this community to get it fixed?’ he asked the news team.
Copiah County Emergency Operations Center Director Randle Drane told WLBT that the process had been plagued by financial holdups to getting the crossing gates erected. “It’s unnecessary loss of life and we all have a responsibility to ourselves and to the public,“ he added.
Meanwhile, in speaking to WJTV’s Jade Bulecza, Daniel Minters, who has now lost two relatives in separate accidents at the CN/Hartley Lane crossing, said “We’ve dropped the ball as a community. There shouldn’t be another death down here.” Willie Green, a Crystal Springs resident who lives near the crossing, told WJTV that “It makes you angry and mad, but you don’t know who to take it out on because (of) the railroad and the red tape from the government.” “Family and community members look on astonished at the thought that maybe with crossing arms, their lives could’ve been saved,” said WJTV’s Bulecza.
Copiah County District 3 Supervisor Perry Hood told the TV reporter that the county has no authority to put up gates at that crossing or at any crossing, telling the Jackson TV station that “the process includes the MDOT Rails Division and CN.” However, he did offer a lengthy statement from the Board of Supervisors, which chronicled all the actions pursued by the County since the beginning. The statement concluded with the promise that “We hope to have the gates installed as soon as possible.”
WJTV “reached out to Canadian National for a response, but we haven’t heard back.”