(Amite, Louisiana – May 10, 2015)
A 35-year-old Louisiana flatbed tow truck driver briefly got his vehicle hung up on a dangerous, unguarded and elevated Canadian National railroad crossing in Amite, LA Sunday afternoon at about 1:35 P.M., CDT, and died when his vehicle was struck by an Amtrak streamliner, one of a dozen trains that pass through Amite daily at a top allowable speed of 79 mph.
The tragedy, the fifth accident to occur at the Pope Lane (also described in Federal Railroad Administration records as “City” Street) crossing, which is neither equipped with a “low ground clearance” warning nor any form of automatic crossing protection devices, like flashing lights, bells and crossing gates, marked the third fatality to go with seven injuries suffered there. It is virtually certain that if equipped with lights and gates this accident would not have happened. Both Canadian National 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%.
A witness told investigators that the truck, indeed, stopped before entering the crossing, only to become entrapped and virtually destroyed by Amtrak’s “City of New Orleans” train, bound from Chicago and destined for its namesake city with 171 passengers on board, killing the truck driver, Stephen Ricketson of Walker, LA.
Two of the train’s passengers that were injured from the collision were taken to a nearby hospital while the other passengers were first taken four blocks away to the Greater Refuge Temple Ministries church to await the arrival of buses that would take them to New Orleans or their intended destinations.
The witness, Teresa Brown, saw the tragedy unfold from her front porch, as her house is just across the street from the infamous crossing. She told New Orleans Channel 6 News reporter Juan Sanchez that “the train hit him and the truck just exploded’, adding that her husband had been killed by a train but not at that particular crossing.
Ms. Brown added that, when she and others asked railroad and government authorities for active protective devices at the crossing, they were told that “there wasn’t enough people killed there” to warrant upgraded warning signals.