(Stephenville, Texas – August 30, 2012)
The driver of a pickup truck died Thursday afternoon at about 4:30 P.M. when his vehicle was struck by a Fort Worth & Western Railroad freight train at the dangerous, unguarded crossing of South Lockhart Road and FWWR tracks in a highly commercialized area of the college community of Stephenville, TX. Ironically, the tragedy occurred almost four months to the day of a similar accident on May 1 after which many residents had complained bitterly in regard to the condition of the crossing.
The railroad, to the northwest and southwest, is heavily tree-lined, and the buildings of the Whataburger restaurant and the Holiday Inn Express, both heavy traffic generators, are o the northeast side of the crossing.
Pedro Aguilar was killed in Thursday’s accident, and details were sketchy due to the sole eyewitness being unable to speak English,
In the May 1 accident – which was dated April 30 by the railroad in filing its report to the Federal Railroad Administration – Colton Watson, 20, a pre-med student at Stephenville’s Tarleton State University, was northbound on South Lockhart, just as Aguilar was, when he encountered the train, consisting only of two locomotives traveling at 39 mph, and attempted to take evasive action by backing off the tracks.
“I am lucky to be alive,” Watson told a reporter for the Stephenville Empire-Tribune. “My truck was totaled, but I only suffered a cut on my head.” Watson called the crossing “a trouble spot.”
“I lived near the railroad crossing at the time, and know there were several close calls,” continued Watson.
The newspaper said there is a railroad crossing sign (a single, passive crossbuck sign), and that Watson said there are insufficient warnings for approaching motorists, and that in the case of witnesses to his accident, they heard the crash but never recalled hearing a locomotive horn.
“He (the locomotive engineer) never blew the horn, I couldn’t see beyond the trees, and there isn’t a railroad crossing bar or lights,” Watson observed. “Sometimes they (train engineers) blow the horn and sometimes they don’t. In most cases, you have no idea a train is coming.”
Watson’s complaints were backed up by his employer, Brad Allen, who said “We have an unmarked crossing inside the city limits. It is a very dangerous spot and needs a signal.”
Yet, both the railroad and the Stephenville Police Dept. took their shots at the victim.
“The railroad has filed a lawsuit against me, and I was cited by Stephenville Police for failing to yield to the train,” said Watson. This was a rather strange action by the railroad, as according to an analysis of the report the FWWR filed with the Federal Railroad Administration, there was no damage to the locomotives, and there was allegedly no injury, even though the victim was treated for head cuts.
Attempts by the newspaper to reach Cleburne, TX attorney Scott Cain, who serves as counsel and to the FWWR and was on site at the Thursday afternoon tragedy, were unsuccessful.