(Fowler, California – August 19, 2013)
Four young adults are dead and a fifth lies in serious condition at Fresno’s Community Regional Medical Center after the 2002 Chevrolet Lumina they were traveling in was struck at a dangerous, unguarded, private crossing of the Union Pacific Railroad and Jefferson Street in Fowler, CA, just southeast of Fresno, CA, at about 1:45 A.M. Monday morning.
The driver, a 20-year-old female from Sanger, CA, was also transported to CRMC, but died after arrival. Meanwhile, three passengers in the Lumina, an 18-year-old woman, a 20-year-old man and a 21-year-old man, all from Fresno, CA, were pronounced dead at the scene, a crossing unguarded by any form of automatic, electronic protective systems, but rather equipped only with passive stop signs that give no warning of oncoming trains.
While authorities would only reveal the name of the survivor, Alexandra Sanchez, 20, of Fresno, who was listed in serious condition at CRMC, the names of the deceased victims were being withheld pending notification of relatives.
California Highway Patrol Spokesman Officer Sean Duncan told media inquirers that “It’s not clear why the driver in the fatal collision drove into the path of the oncoming train,” but CHP Officer Scott Jobinger, who investigated at the scene, said that drugs and alcohol were not believed to be factors. He further explained that, although existing signage at the crossing was “proper and well-maintained,” and that the locomotive was “sounding its horn and had its headlight on,” but admitted that the crossing was equipped “with a stop sign and painted stop lines, but no crossing arms or lights.”
Officer Jobinger said the UPRR freight train, consisting of three locomotives hauling 103 freight cars, was approaching the crossing at about 40 mph, and began braking immediately after impact, rolling to a stop about a quarter of a mile beyond the intersection.
As previously mentioned, this crossing did not have any lights or gates. It is virtually certain that lights and gates would have prevented this incident. 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%.
There was no explanation as to why a city street was designated to be a private crossing, as all other Fowler streets were listed in the Federal Railroad Administration’s Crossing Inventory as “public” crossings of the UPRR, but the tragedy was far from the first to occur at the UP/Jefferson Street crossing, having been preceded by three earlier accidents, the most recent occurring June 18, 2009. A single injury had been suffered in one of the other two previous accidents.