(Maeystown, Illinois – June 14, 2019)
A 23-year-old Waterloo, IL farm worker and former Future Farmers of America leader died at an unguarded private crossing of double Union Pacific Railroad tracks near Maeystown, IL. The collision between his farm equipment and the Union Pacific train caused a derailment and potential hazardous material crisis about 8:00 PM, CDT Friday evening.
Jonah K. Matthews was transplanting corn washed out in recent field flooding in the area when the collision occurred. According to his father, David Matthews, his view of the oncoming train was obstructed by a second train operating in the second direction. “He stopped for the first one and didn’t see the second one,” he told St. Louis Post-Dispatch Reporters Jesse Bogan and Rachel Rice. There are a large number of similar private farm crossings in the Monroe County area.
The victim was one of six sons of David Matthews and his wife.
“It’s a terrible situation, “remarked Illinois State Police Master Sergeant Matthew Weller, who was one of the law enforcement officers investigating the tragedy.
The collision at the crossing on what is an extension of Fults Road, also resulted in the derailment of 10 cars of the train which consisted of three locomotives and 162 rail cars. It was not known when, if ever, the second train’s horn was sounded. According to the FRA’s grade crossing inventory listing, a daily average of 60 UPRR freight trains cross the field crossing at a maximum allowable speed of 70 mph.
The collision demolished the John Deere tractor, which burst into flames on impact, and subsequently set fire to two of the derailed rail cars, creating a fear that hazardous materials known to be in the train’s consist might be endangered.
Firefighters and Haz Mat teams from six area fire departments responded to the situation.
Maeystown Rural Fire Protection District Fire Chief Lynden Prange told WISL-TV that “We had a large ball of fire here coming from the tractor. It was burning two of the empty box cars. We attacked it, got the fire out, and set up a safety perimeter,” in case the hazardous material carrying cars were compromised. Fortunately, they were well back in the train and were not endangered.