(North Little Rock, Arkansas – July 12, 2013)
Four female cousins escaped with their lives when their car stalled on the non-gated Union Pacific Railroad crossing of Pike Avenue in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Their car was struck by a UPRR freight train as the victims attempted to escape their perilous position at about 5:00 P.M. Friday afternoon.
Latrease Griffin was the lone injury, as she had difficulty in opening her passenger side car door, just barely freeing herself as the train hit the car and spun it into her. “Am I about to die? What’s going to happen,” recalled Griffin. “My life flashed in front of me, like it was crazy,” the lone casualty of the wreck continued as she limped around the accident scene.
While North Little Rock Police believed the car stalled on the tracks, the design of the crossing might have contributed to a number of mishaps. The crossing allows barely a vehicle length between the railroad track and a cross-street traffic signal, which tends to back unsuspecting motorists over the rails, even though a sign on the mast of the crossing’s flashing light signals advises against such practice.
Nonetheless, it is virtually certain that the gates would have prevented this accident. Both Union Pacific and Operation Lifesaver know 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%.
“I was standing outside of the car and (still) got hit by the train,” explained the victim. “That’s how hard it hit my car, and my car moved and spun around,” she added.
According to Griffin and others involved, there was very little warning time between activation of the crossing lights and the arrival of the train. “No, the signal didn’t come down at all until the train was almost to my car.”
The Pike Avenue/UPRR crossing, which is equipped with flashing light signals, but has no crossing gate which could greatly reduce its high number of accidents, has a checkered past, having now been the site of nine train/motor vehicle accidents, which have cumulatively resulted in three injuries. A daily average of 25 trains cross Pike Avenue at that intersection, but only at a maximum speed of 25 mph, a reduced rate of speed which may have been a factor in fewer motorists and their passengers suffering serious injuries, if not death, in those nine collisions.
But Latrease Griffin and her three cousins certainly felt the train was travelling at a rate of speed in excess of that. “I couldn’t even imagine,” said Griffin. “It was going really fast.”