(South Bend, Indiana – October 19, 2012)
The parents and family of Brian Vories, 22, of South Bend, IN are seeking to get gates installed at the confusing crossing where Brian was killed the evening of Sunday, October 7 when his Mercury Mountaineer SUV was struck by a Chicago, South Shore & South Bend passenger train at the oddly-designed crossing of Pine/Edison Roads. The crossing goes over the railroad tracks owned by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, which also parallel a second crossing only a short distance ahead that is owned by the Norfolk Southern Railroad.
Besides the motorist fatality, two of the more than 200 passengers aboard the South Shore train complained of minor head and back pain following the collision.
Initial media reports said that “the motorist was struck by the train, which was traveling about 70 mph, after trying to drive around crossing gates.” The only problem was that there were no gates to drive around at the NICTD/CSS&SB tracks, as they are protected only by flashing signals, bells and crossbucks. The gates are located at the NS crossing of Pine Road, and the obtaining by WNDU-TV, Channel 16, the NBC affiliate in South Bend, of videotapes recorded by the control car of the South Shore train which clearly showed the victim slowly inching across the South Bend tracks, obeying the crossing signals and crossing gates protecting the NS tracks, which had a train travelling across them at the time, prove it.
Other initial media reports claimed the victim had raced across the South Bend tracks to beat the train, but the tapes obtained by WNDU tell a completely different story. Investigators tried everything to pin the accident on the victim, testing his body for drugs and alcohol and his cellular phone for texting activity, as well as investigating the possibility of suicide, only to find the fault obviously lay with the parallel, but badly uncoordinated, crossing protective systems.
“I saw the video, and it’s obvious,” said the victim’s aunt, Laura Dennison. “Simple accident; that’s the bottom line – just an accident.”
Meanwhile, a second South Bend-area television station, WSBT-TV, Channel 22, a CBS affiliate, chose to send a film crew to the crossing to provide background footage for their own investigation Friday afternoon. As the cameras rolled, a NS freight train cleared its intersection, the gates rose and flashers stopped, and a motorist who had been waiting in his pickup truck proceeded across the tracks and through the South Shore tracks without even looking. Nine seconds later, a CSS&SB commuter train barreled through the crossing.
Vories’ family chose the venue of Ryan’s funeral to launch a petition drive requesting the installation of crossing gates—the gates their son and nephew allegedly drove around — at the NICTD crossing where he died, collecting hundreds of signatures. But as governmental red tape rolls at the speed of an escargot, the Indiana DOT says St. Joseph County, under whose authority maintenance of Pine/Edison Roads lie, would have to request the addition of gates, after which INDOT would facilitate a study to determine the need for gates at the crossing.
Ryan’s mother, Debbie Schaefer, also questions the placement of a large signal control structure that stands close to the tracks in the direction the train that killed her son approached. “If you stop where you’re supposed to, you’re good. But if you inch forward (as her son did), you might be in a blind spot.”