(Pierson, Florida – November 7, 2014)
Returning to work after her lunch break, a Florida trucking company dispatcher and mother of two was killed as she attempted to drive her 2002 GMC pickup truck across the dangerous and unguarded crossing of CSX railroad tracks and the private drive leading to the JRC Transportation complex just off U.S. Highway 17 south of Pierson, FL shortly after 1:00 P.M., EST Friday.
Laura Ann Bennett, 40, was headed south on U.S. 17 and turned right toward the JRC parking lot, when her vehicle was struck on the passenger side. Amtrak’s Miami-bound “Silver Meteor” was “coming at full speed and it hit the pickup” according to witness Philip Cody Hobbs, who was also headed south on Highway 17 and saw the tragedy unfold.
The victim’s family, hearing of the accident shortly after it occurred, gathered at the scene, where Bennett had been pronounced dead. According to Jeannie Tapia, Bennett’s aunt, her niece was the mother of a newborn daughter and a son who is in kindergarten.
Also arriving at the scene, besides the now-motherless children, was the victim’s boy friend, John Mowery, who could not speak to the media due to his grieving condition.
Among the eight trains which operate across the intersection daily at a maximum speed of 79 mph are two Amtrak passenger trains and several CSX freight trains.
As previously mentioned, this crossing lacks any form of active protection, such as lights and gates. It is virtually certain that if equipped with lights and gates this accident would not have happened. Amtrak, CSX 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%.
According to Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly Woods, the train had departed New York City Thursday afternoon, and was due in Miami at 6:55 P.M., EST, Friday. The Silver Meteor had 208 passengers on board.