(Somerset, Kentucky – July 18, 2014)
A Washington state 18-wheeler driver traveling north and hauling a trailer loaded with charcoal lighting fluid was struck Friday afternoon at about 3:00 P.M., EDT by a Norfolk Southern train at a dangerous, unguarded crossing. This was the sixth accident at the dangerous and unguarded grade crossing of Norfolk Southern Railway and the Warner Fertilizer Company entrance road off of Kentucky Highway 2227, which has produced three deaths and four serious injuries.
Viktor Kalchenia, 27, of Auburn, WA missed the first entrance and was entering the second with his 2015 Volvo tractor hauling the extremely dangerous commodity when the driver encountered the southbound NS freight train, one of a daily average of 70 trains that cross there at a top allowable speed of 50 mph. The crossing is not equipped with any active warning devices, such as lights and gates. It is virtually certain that if equipped with lights and gates, this accident could have been prevented. Both Norfolk Southern and Operation Lifesaver know lights and gates are the most effective type of protection at railroad crossings. Studies that have been conducted over fifty years ago confirm that lights and gates offer the ability to drastically reduce the number of vehicle/train accidents by as much as 96%
The train’s lead locomotive split the semi on contact, throwing the tractor to one side of the tracks and the trailer to the other. Video obtained by WKYT-TV news of Lexington, KY and taken by the Warner Fertilizer security camera caused the station’s Jerrika Insco to comment that “seeing the video, it’s hard to believe Viktor Kalchenia survived.”
The trailer burst into flames and then exploded, producing a cloud of black smoke that could be seen for miles. “We had multiple fires, multiple explosions,” said Somerset-Pulaski Special Response Chief Doug Baker. “When I arrived on scene, there was fire probably 75 to 100 yards down both sides of the tracks and 35 to 40 feet in the air.”
The Chief commented that “what could have been a huge disaster turned out as well as it could be,” as when the train finally came to a halt, a United Parcel Service trailer riding on a flatcar was just a few cars away from the wreckage.
“It would be a completely different situation (if the fire had reached the black powder),” Baker told ABC TV News’ Yazhou Sun. “Luckily, that didn’t happen, thanks to the quick actions of the local fire department.”
Driver Kalchenia, meanwhile, was treated at the scene for burns, and was then airlifted to the University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital in Lexington, KY, where he was admitted to the trauma ICU in stable condition. A husband and father, the trucker had surgery on Monday and is scheduled to undergo a second round of surgery Friday, according to his wife, who flew in from Washington after being informed of her husband’s plight.