(Longstreet, Louisiana – February 16, 2015)
All three victims of Monday’s tragic Union Pacific/pickup truck accident are now deceased, as the Desoto Parish Coroner’s Office announced Tuesday that the lone survivor of the collision passed away from his injuries at 2:10 A.M. Two people died and a third was taken by ground ambulance to a Shreveport, LA hospital and admitted in critical condition after the 2001 maroon Dodge Ram pickup truck they were in was struck by a Union Pacific freight train at a dangerous and unguarded private crossing leading to an oil field near Longstreet, LA Monday afternoon just before 1:00 P.M., CST. State police said the driver stopped the truck at the crossing, but clearly unaware of the oncoming train, preceded across the railroad tracks. The truck was eastbound and the southbound train hit it on the driver’s side, knocking it away from the tracks.
The crew in the truck, all employees of Pipeline Construction and Maintenance, Inc., was following two other crews riding in similar vehicles.
Killed at the scene were the driver, John Watson, 23, of Centerville, LA and one of his passengers, Michael Ryder II, 25, of Goldonna, LA. Passenger Herbert Barras III, 35, of Charenton, LA, was taken to and admitted at University Health Medical Center in Shreveport, LA, where he died early Tuesday morning.
The crossing, which is just off Louisiana Highway 5 and which closely parallels UPRR tracks through Desoto Parish, is slightly obscured by trees, and 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 would not have happened. Both Union Pacific and Operation Lifesaver know that 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%.
According to Federal Railroad Administration files, the crossing accommodates 10 Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe trains daily at a top allowable speed of 49 mph.
Television station KTBS, Channel 3 in Shreveport, LA, said in a semi-editorial piece that “Many of the country’s 90,000 passive rail crossings have low train traffic or low (motor vehicular) traffic volumes, yet they’re responsible for the majority of accidents. In 1998, the last time the US Department of Transportation looked at passive (unguarded) railroad crossings, their study found 54% of the accidents and 60% of the fatalities were at passive grade crossings.”
“Studies show upgrading crossings from passive to active signs (signals) can dramatically reduce crashes, but costly upgrades are not feasible for many budgets,” the KTSB-TV editorial concluded.
Although a LifeAir helicopter was ordered to transport Barras for treatment, the rapidly deteriorating weather in Louisiana made the use of the chopper impossible.
Louisiana State Police troopers and officers of the Desoto Parish Sheriff’s Dept. were investigating the tragedy with assistance from Union Pacific Railroad Police.