(Amite, Louisiana May 11, 2015)
Controversy arose Monday in a New Orleans WWL-TV News follow-up of Sundays tragic death of 35-year-old tow truck driver Stephen Ricketsons death at the humped, dangerous and unguarded crossing of Pope Lane and Canadian National railroad tracks in Amite, LA. The victim was killed by a New Orleans-bound Amtrak passenger train with 171 aboard in 79 mph territory.
Reporting on the tragic Mothers Day collision which occurred when the victim first stopped in compliance with the highway stop sign, but then proceeded across the tracks, only to have his flatbed tow truck hang up on the unmarked elevated crossing and then to be struck by the train, which may have been traveling as fast as 79 mph, the speed limit for that segment of track. WWL Northshore Bureau Chief Ashley Rodrigue reported on the aftermath of the tragedy that Louisiana DOTD claimed late Monday that the intersection was recommended for closure in 2004, but the town asked to keep it open while creating a connecting road for residents on the other side to access the next crossing to the north.
Mayor Buddy Bel, who has been in the elected position as the citys chief executive for the past two years, says he has not been contacted by the agency about the situation and no alternative route has been created for that area. Bel added that the Pope Lane crossing is the only crossing within city limits without crossing arms and lights.
WWL-TV pointed out that Nearby residents and first responders say there have been about four or five different accidents at the crossing in the past 20 years, and their recollections were 100% accurate, as Sundays tragedy was the fifth collision and the third death suffered there to go along with seven non-fatal injuries according to statistical reports collected by the Federal Railroad Administration.
Rodrigue also reported another witness account, this one from Firefighter Hunter Perry, who, along with his family, had a back porch view of the crash from their home only yards from the tragic site. We heard this loud boom, and as I turned around, I looked and could see this smoke and you could see the train trying to stop going down the tracks, said Perry, who then ran to the scene to provide whatever assistance he could render.
Its something that we always prepare for the worst and hope for the best, and this, yesterday, had the potential for being a huge disaster, said Amite Fire Chief Bruce Cutrer, adding that the collision Very well could have derailed that southbound Amtrak and then we would have had 171 people to deal with.
One lifes too many, said Fireman Perry in support of his chief. Were in the job of saving lives, so anything we can do is with that objective in mind.