(La Porte, Indiana – September 15, 2012)
Just as La Porte, IN residents thought it was safe to cross the railroad tracks again, a triple-track crossing of Norfolk Southern Railroad tracks and Weller Avenue recorded another injury accident that could easily have been a fatality without the swift rescue actions performed by passers-by Saturday evening at about 7:30 P.M.
The same corridor had just been in the news a few days before when a South Bend, IN television station and the La Porte city engineer teamed up to solve a problem with uncoordinated crossing gate deployment after a string of incidents.
This time, however, it was the chance discovery by a single father of three and his fiancÃ© of an out-of-town motorist that produced actions of heroic dimensions as they came to the rescue of Matthew Morales, a 70-year-old motorist from New Jersey who had stopped in La Porte for food and rest on his way to a fishing vacation in Wyoming, who got his 2012 blue Dodge Avenger hung up on the Weller Street/NS crossing.
William “Chuck” Musgrave, a single father of three, and his fiancÃ©, Rhiannon Bilhauser (a registered nurse, whose professional training would become most beneficial shortly) were enroute to a race at the fairgrounds when they came upon the imperiled Morales. Seeing the serious nature of the situation, Musgrave stopped his car, jumped out and could see the glow of the headlights of an approaching train, one of an average of 53 trains, including four 79 mph Amtrak operations, which roll over the Weller Street crossing daily.
Running to the entrapped car, Musgrave told Morales that a train was imminent, saying “You have to go right now or we’re gonna die,” and began to force extrication of the heavy set driver, who also suffers from a heart condition, neither ailment being of benefit to the urgent rescue as the crossing gates descended, the lights flashed and the bells tolled their warning. The train was only 15 feet away when rescuer and rescued fled the vehicle and the train lifted the vehicle from its position, carrying it some distance down the track, mangling the vehicle but sparing its occupant.
Injured from his extrication, Morales was cared for by Bilhauser until emergency responders arrived and transported him to Indiana University Health in La Porte, where he was admitted and was still a patient the following week. Another unidentified passer-by also assisted pulling the victim from his vehicle.
“I can’t thank him enough,” Morales told South Bend, IN CBS-affiliate WSBT-TV of his gratitude to his rescuer. And when Musgrave was asked by WSBT Reporter Denise Bohn if he was scared during the traumatic event, Musgrave admitted “I was terrified. Until that train stopped and the car stopped moving, I was terrified. I totally thought that car (impaled on the locomotive’s snow plow) was going to run us over!”
But regardless of the risk, Musgrave said he would perform his heroics all over again because “I lost a couple of good friends to trains when I was young, so I’m glad I didn’t watch somebody die that night.”
But even better is the fact that “My kids call me a hero, so that’s kind of cool, too,” admits a smiling Chuck.