(Harrison County, Iowa – October 15, 2012)
A 16-year-old female high school student from Little Sioux, IA died Sunday afternoon when her westbound 2005 Pontiac G6 was hit by a northbound Union Pacific freight train at the dangerous, unguarded, elevated crossing of 125th Street and UPRR tracks adjacent to County Road 45 just after 12:00 noon in Harrison County, IA.
Cailey Berndt may never have seen nor heard the train coming as she negotiated the inclined approach surface of the road leading over the railroad tracks. Her vehicle was struck by the train and flung into the Harrison/Monona Waterway, with Cailey still inside.
The victim was still alive when she was airlifted by helicopter to the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, NE, but was pronounced dead shortly after her arrival.
The intersection is protected only by standard, passive railroad crossbuck signs, and has no active protection such as flashing lights, bells or crossing gates, a system which railroad-generated statistics have claimed would prevent over 90% of such tragedies. An average of eight UPRR trains traverse the crossing daily at speeds as high as 50 mph.
Iowa State Patrol troopers, who responded to the accident, will meet with Union Pacific officials later this week to view video taken from the train’s locomotive as they continue their investigation.
Berndt was a sophomore at Maple Valley-Anthon Oto High School in Mapleton, IA, where the school district pulled in counselors from all its schools to be available for Cailey’s classmates. “She was a great kid. The teachers enjoyed her in class,” said MV-AO Community School District Superintendent Steve Oberg. “She had many friends in school,” he continued, adding that “Every kid brings a unique, individual perspective to a district. We’ll miss that in Cailey.”