(Vandalia, Illinois – October 30, 2014)
Four members of a Greenville, IL family are were killed and a fifth critically injured after a Chrysler Pacifica minivan driven by their mother was struck by an eastbound CSX freight train at the signalized Sixth Street grade crossing, which was termed both “unique” and “confusing in news reports, in Vandalia, IL at about 6:48 P.M. last Thursday evening.
Killed at the scene were Drake Wisnasky, 13, his sister, Abby Wisnasky, 10, and their half-sister, Alyssa Sewell, 18. The mother, Crystal Anna, 35, and her youngest son, Dylan Wisnasky, 9, were both airlifted to St. Louis University Hospital, where Crystal died from her injuries at 12:42 P.M. Friday. Dylan was admitted in serious condition with massive injuries, but is expected to survive.
According to Jeff Streicker, Supt. Of Schools at the school district which the children all attended, the children’s father, Scott Wisnasky, was not in the car, nor was Dalton Wisnasky, 14, the eldest son, who is a freshman at Greenville High School. Victim Alyssa Sewell graduated from GHS last spring.
Speculation was that the victims were bound for Vandalia’s annual Lions’ Club Halloween Parade, which is called “the biggest annual event in Vandalia” by many. The event, scheduled to start at 7:00 P.M., CDT, featured a dozen high school marching bands, including one from Greenville High School, and runs along Gallatin Street, which parallels the railroad tracks in Vandalia’s downtown, a block distant from the CSX tracks.
St. Louis Fox 2 News reported that “The railroad crossing intersection is very unique. It could be confusing to someone not from the town. The crossing has two tracks and a city street also parallels the tracks. It was dark and raining with lots of traffic…”
“I don’t know if she wasn’t familiar with the crossing or what happened,” said Vandalia Chief of Police Jeff Ray.
Chief Ray who, along with Fayette County Coroner Bruce Bowen and Illinois State Police Master Sgt. Shad Payne were allowed to view the tape of the video taken from the locomotive’s cab camera. Acknowledging the fact that it was raining at the time of the tragedy and that the driver may have been confused by the crossing’s odd design, as well as that the black-and-white film images were quite grainy, Chief Ray said that “It looked to me like the driver was completely unaware that a train was bearing down.” He denied the idea that the vehicle was stuck in traffic, but that allegation was disputed by eyewitnesses.
Desiree Fischer of Vandalia said that the van did not pass the lowered gates but was instead trapped at the crossing before the train arrived. “She had been sitting for a few minutes off the tracks” (there are two at the crossing, one widely separated from the CSX main line, setting up the oddity of the grade crossing) she told news media. “The cars moved ahead of her, she pulled up to go over the tracks, and the car in front of her stopped. That’s when the lights started flashing, and then ‘boom’, the train hit them.”
Another eyewitness, Vincent Davis, also of Vandalia, described his feelings as “It’s like a pit in my stomach. This is such a small town and everything.”
Vandalia resident Ed Smith, who lives near the tracks, was on his patio when he heard the train’s emergency brakes activate. “I thought ‘this can’t be good’, because they don’t lock those train brakes up like that unless something’s on the tracks.”
CSX spokeswoman Melanie Cost said by phone that the train had originated in East St. Louis with two locomotives and 103 cars of mixed freight bound for Avon, IN.
According to Federal Railroad Administration documents, CSX operates an average of 11 trains across the intersection daily at a top allowable speed of 60 mph. Three previous accidents at the same crossing had produced a single fatality.