(Nokomis, Illinois – June 14, 2017)
The Christian County, IL community of Pana was struggling with grief Thursday after five community leaders lost their lives in a horrible collision between their southbound minivan and a westbound Union Pacific freight train. The collision happened at the dangerous and unguarded crossing of County Road 1800 North and UP tracks, a twisting road crossing near its intersection with Illinois Route 16. The crossing is completely unguarded with any active warning devices, such as lights and gates, to warn motorists of oncoming trains.
The van, driven by Herbert Castle, 79, was struck on the driver’s side by the southbound UP train. The train was one of a daily average of 15 freight trains that pass over the crossing at a speed of 60 mph. Killed in the tragic collision were the driver’s brother, John Castle, 89, the men’s wives, Mary Castle, 79, and Nell Castle, 77, and a friend and senior leader Mary Pugsley, 87. All five were returning from a church ice cream social at South Fork United Methodist Church when the accident occurred at about 6:49 P.M., CDT.
One of the emergency responders, Christian County Sheriff’s Deputy Tyler Castle, soon learned he was dealing with his grandparents and great aunt and uncle as victims.
All were community leaders for decades in Pana, where the Castle brothers ran a concrete mixing business and were responsible for many Lions’ Club charities. All the victims were members of the same family, as Mary Pugsley was Mary Castle’s sister-in-law. In addition, all were members of Pana First United Methodist Church.
As previously mentioned, this crossing lacked automatic protective devices, such as lights and gates. It is virtually certain that if this crossing was protected by active warning devices, this collision would not have occurred. Both Union Pacific and Operation Lifesaver all know that 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%.