Railroad News

Long Recovery Continues for North Dakota City Worker who was struck by BNSF Train

(Grand Forks, North Dakota – January 3, 2014)

Kyle Johnson, 28, a part-time mosquito control worker for the City of Grand Forks, ND, and one of two city workers who were severely injured August 21 of last year when the enclosed-cab mosquito spraying truck that Johnson was driving, as he has for the past seven summers, was struck by a BNSF freight train at the dangerous and unguarded crossing of BNSF railroad tracks and 17th Avenue South in Grand Forks, is anxious to get back to work killing mosquitoes and not fighting for life as he has had to do for most of the past five months.

Johnson and fellow GF City employee Jonathan Bartel, 22, were both critically injured when the Devils Lake, ND-bound train loaded with company material intended for track maintenance slammed into their vehicle and tossed it into a trackside ditch at a crossing equipped solely with standard, passive railroad cross-buck signage, which have no possibility of giving the operators of and passengers in vehicles crossing the tracks any warning of and protection from oncoming trains. Only active devices like flashing lights, bells and crossing gates can, when working properly, perform that responsibility.

Currently a patient at the Courage Center in Golden Valley, MN, Johnson’s convalescence has been a lengthy process on the way to a hoped-for February 14 discharge from the institution, but an extremely doubtful prognosis for a return to the work he loves anytime this year.

“From where we’ve come from, we’ll take it,” professed the victim’s mother, Deb Johnson. “It’s a miracle he’s doing as well as he is,” she told Grand Forks ABC-affiliate WDAZ-TV, Channel 8 Reporter Ryan Bakken.

Chronicling her son’s still-incomplete journey back to a productive life, Deb said that her son was kept in a sedated coma at Grand Forks’ Altru Hospital for three weeks following the tragic accident. “We weren’t sure then if he’d ever breathe on his own or walk on his own; statistically, he shouldn’t be still around,” she added.

Johnson was finally transferred to Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul, MN, where he spent 12 weeks of further medical treatment before being sent to the Courage Center, where he receives a daily dose of two hours of physical therapy, an hour of occupational therapy, and another hour of speech therapy, all as he struggles to walk without support and communicate through unclear speech patterns. Once discharged from the Courage Center, Johnson will have to move in with his parents, Les and Deb Johnson, as he undergoes out-patient therapy.

Grand Forks Mosquito Control Supervisor Todd Hanson, who is among the organizers of a “Kourage for Kyle” fundraiser scheduled for January 25 at the Grand Forks County Office Building, said that Kyle “is very dependable and very conscientious in everything he does.”

The fundraising event, intended to help defray the massive costs of Johnson’s medical bills through a luncheon and silent auction, will be held by the North Dakota Association for the Disabled.

Meanwhile, the still-mending Kyle continues an optimistic outlook. “People tell me it will be another year before I can go back to work, but I think it will be this summer,” prophesies Kyle. “I really want to get back in the groove.”