(Boca Raton, Florida – January 26, 2013)
The tragic death of the operator of a Belle Glade, FL nonprofit drug treatment foundation who was killed at about 3:18 P.M. Saturday afternoon when his 2005 Land Rover crashed through lowered crossing gates at the intersection of Palmetto Park Road and CSX railroad tracks in Boca Raton, FL and was struck by a Florida Tri-Rail regional passenger train was bad enough, but the 200 passengers aboard had no idea they would soon see the situation deteriorate into a nightmare.
Anthony Carter, 47, was on his way home from purchasing fish for his family’s dinner when he exited IH-95 at Palmetto Park and, for some unknown reason, ran through the lowered crossing gates and into the path of the northbound passenger train. The victim’s son, Joshua Carter, surmised that his father “may not have seen the gate,” and as a result, “He may have panicked.” The CSX corridor handles an average of four dozen CSX freight, Amtrak passenger and Tri-Rail regional commuter trains daily, and the crossing of CSX rails and Palmetto Park Road has now experienced nine accidents resulting in four deaths and three non-fatal injuries.
Meanwhile, aboard the train, things were about to go from bad to worse. “There was a big bump, real loud, and the entire train shook,” recalled Novella Rainey, 43, of Lake Worth, FL, whose family, including her husband, Gregory, and the couple’s 12 and 10-year-old sons, had boarded the train at Fort Lauderdale for what was supposed to be a 30-minute ride, the first train ride ever for the boys.
“There was a lot of screaming, and we saw smoke coming from underneath, a lot of smoke. I didn’t know what was going on,” Mrs. Rainey continued.
The Rainey family would be among the lucky – or, perhaps, less unfortunate, as Gregory Rainey said “Everybody was trying to get off. I grabbed my boys, helped my wife down, and then helped other women with children.”
The fact that some of the passengers were able to get off the train conflicted with the experiences of others, who were held aboard the train for three hours, and eventually had to resort to breaking the windows of the rail cars to gain exit.
South Florida Regional Transportation Authority spokeswoman Bonnie Arnold called the passengers’ frantic and frustrated actions “a very dangerous thing to do unless the crew directs you to do it. She added that “You should never, ever exit the train unless the security guard or the train crew tells you to do so. You’re much safer off in the train than on the right-of-way.”
But there seemed to be an absence of both crew and security guards in the coaches where passengers were, in effect, held hostage, as spokesperson Arnold offered the explanation that “Unlike a motor vehicle accident, when a train is involved with a car or a pedestrian, it becomes a crime scene. So the train, in essence, for that period of time becomes the property of police.”
Arnold claimed the smoke was a result of the train’s emergency brake application, and that “At no point were passengers in danger, just drastically inconvenienced.”
That could have qualified as a mild understatement, as when, after three hours, the train reversed its route, intending to return its passengers to Deerfield Beach, FL, where they were supposed to change to another train with a scheduled arrival of 7:32 P.M. But those plans went awry when the first train was stopped again at the wreck site and forced to wait another hour and a half while police finished their investigation and the scene was cleared.
Then, buses were ordered to ferry the passengers to another Tri-Rail route so they could take passengers to stations in Palm Beach County, but that plan fell through when it was learned the bus driver had already worked a 10-hour shift, and under federal transportation rules, could work no longer without eight hours’ rest.
As for passengers like the Rainey family, the ordeal finally ended after 10 P.M., when they arrived home from what was intended to be a 30-minute train ride that lasted over seven hours.