(Taylorville, Illinois – September 21, 2014)
A 66-year-old Taylorville, IL woman was killed early Sunday morning at about 2:00 A.M. when her car became stuck at the strangely-configured crossing of Norfolk Southern railroad tracks and South Webster Street in Taylorville and was struck by a northeast-bound NS freight train hauling hazardous materials.
Kathleen Rhodes was declared dead after firefighters, not realizing there was someone still trapped in the vehicle, arrived at the NS intersection with Palmer Street, near South Main Street, where the train deposited the wreckage after shoving the burning car two blocks from the point of collision, and extinguished the flames, as a string of a dozen placarded tank cars carrying flammable liquids were stopped adjacent to the burning car.
“We could have had a potential hazard of an explosion from the train cars, so once they got that moved we went ahead and cooled down the rest of the train cars and advanced the hose line, put out the fire, and at that point we realized there was a potential victim in the car,” explained Taylorville Firefighter Nick Hackney to WAND-TV, Channel 17 in Decatur, IL as to why the fate of the driver was not investigated before the fire was addressed first.
Webster Street and 3rd Street meet in a normal, perpendicular manner just a few feet beyond the narrow crossing where NS rails cut a 45 degree swath across the approach to the street intersection. In fact, Palmer and South Main Streets are at an identical, difficult angle with the railroad track, which Federal Railroad Administration records say a daily average of 15 trains traverse at a top allowable speed of 50 mph.
The accident was the third to occur at the crossing, which is equipped with both flashing lights and gates, but was the first fatality after the earlier collisions resulted in four non-fatal injuries.
The tragedy, ironically, occurred only two hours after the close of the State of Illinois’ first observation of “Rail Safety Week” between September 14 and 20.