(Owatonna, Minnesota – March 12, 2014)
Five occupants of a 2007 Chevrolet Impala were injured, three of them seriously, when their vehicle attempted to stop but collided with a westbound Canadian Pacific freight train at the non-gated crossing of State Avenue and CP railroad tracks in Owatonna, MN at about 11:00 P.M. Wednesday night.
The driver, Michael Sirik, 30, of Faribault, MN, was traveling south on State Avenue when he was warned of the train by one of his passengers, and threw on his brakes in an attempt to stop. “There was skidding,” reported Owatonna Police Capt. Jeff Mundale. “His skid marks kind of led to the right side of the road and then (Sirik’s vehicle) was hit by the lead engine.”
Also riding in the Sirik vehicle were Ariana Hagel, 20, Thurman Dewberry, 24, and Justin Steinburg, 23, all of Faribault, MN and Tessa Watkins, 20, of Kenyon, MN. All five occupants were injured in various degrees, with the three most seriously injured being airlifted to St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, MN.
Steinburg, who was seated on the driver’s side of the back seat, was the most critically injured, receiving a severe head injury.
Although the State Ave./CP Rail crossing has flashing lights and bells, it lacks the most critical of railroad crossing protective devices: crossing gates. Even though a daily average of 6,300 vehicles, including 20 school buses, cross at the road/rail intersection, neither CP Railroad, Owatonna city, Steele County nor the State of Minnesota have seen fit to add gates to the crossing’s signalization. Studies that have been conducted over fifty years ago confirm that the combination of lights and gates offer the ability to drastically reduce the number of vehicle/train accidents by as much as 96%.