(Palm Beach County, Florida – November 24, 2019)
A 58-year-old grandmother and her two elementary school grandsons were killed about 2:00 PM, EST Saturday afternoon when their Subaru Outback SUV was struck by Amtrak-s “Silver Star” en route from Miami to New York City with 200 passengers on board. The car’s driver, Valery Jo Rintamaki of West Palm Beach and her grandsons Trystan Prestano, 10, and Skylar Prestano, 8, both of Wellington, FL were pronounced deceased at the scene.
The grandmother was taking her grandsons to a Boy Scout camping trip and was driving on North Grade Road. The Corbett Wildlife Management Area maintains a checkpoint for entrance to the park just beyond the unguarded crossing of CSX rails and the Park’s entrance road. The victims’ vehicle was carried a considerable distance northbound after the train struck and impaled it upon the front of the locomotive.
This is the second tragedy in less than a month to take the lives of at least three people at an unguarded CSX crossing. Similar to the South Carolina collision, this CSX rail crossing accommodates a daily average of seven CSX freight and Amtrak passenger trains are allowed to travel at speeds as high as 79 mph over the unguarded crossing. As stated, the crossing lacked any form of active warning devices, such as lights and gates. It is virtually certain that if this crossing was equipped with lights and gates, this collision would not have happened. CSX and Operation Lifesaver 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 collisions by as much as 96%.
The force of the collision “sounded like a shotgun going off,” said Earl Megonigal, a check station operator at the wildlife management area told The Post reporters.
Megonigal told news media that previous crashes involving trains at the Corbett crossing have prompted calls for improved safety measures. “Everybody has been saying for years that we need some sort of crossing gate,” he told news media representatives. “It’s dangerous there. Trains come flying by.”
Saturday’s tragedy represented the fifth collision and first fatalities in collisions at the crossing since 2000. All five crashes involved Amtrak trains.