(New Buffalo, Michigan – May 19, 2014)
An unidentified police officer commented that Courtney Koblinski of Michigan City, IN “needs to go buy her some lottery tickets, because she should not have lived” through a collision with a Grand Rapids, MI-bound Amtrak “Pere Marquette” train carrying 152 passengers and a crew of four at the dangerous and unguarded crossing of Bell Avenue and CSX railroad tracks in New Buffalo, MI Monday evening at about 7:30 P.M.
Koblinski’s near-fatal accident was witnessed by both her mother, Sheryal Nowak, and her 2 ½ year-old son, Jameson. The mother had just picked up supper and was on her way to Nowak’s home, where the three were to meet when Koblinski returned from work to pick Jameson up from his grandmother’s care. Nowak, a certified medical assistant, was near the dangerous and unguarded crossing when she and her grandson “saw the car come up on the railroad tracks, and then the train hit her behind the driver door and the back seat and trunk were torn right off.”
Courtney had gotten off work early, and her mother did not immediately recognize her daughter’s car, which was lying in a water-filled ravine as she ran to help the trapped motorist. But when she saw the Ford Taurus’s detached trunk lid, she thought “Oh my God, that’s Courtney!” Her daughter, still strapped into her car as water rose to her knees, was screaming in terror from the ordeal.
Koblinski told authorities she never saw or heard the train coming, as the crossing has neither flashing lights nor crossing gates. It is virtually certain that lights and gates would have prevented this incident. Both CSX 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%.
New Buffalo firefighters and paramedics arrived quickly, extricated the injured mother from the wreckage of her completely destroyed vehicle, and loaded her aboard a Medic 1 helicopter for an air lift to Michigan City’s St. Anthony’s Hospital for treatment of injuries to her arms and hands as well as numerous scrapes and bruises. She was treated and released to her mother’s care in New Buffalo.
According to Federal Railroad Administration records, a half-dozen CSX freight and Amtrak passenger trains cross the CSX/Bell Avenue intersection daily at a top allowable speed of 60 mph. The crossing has experienced one other non-fatal-injury accident since the establishment of FRA reporting procedures were established in the early 1970’s.