(Paul, Nebraska – November 21, 2012)
There is little left of the memory of a collision between the Case 55-horsepower IH tractor a young Nebraska farmer was operating and a Union Pacific train consisting of three locomotives and 110 empty covered grain hoppers going 50 mph in the mind of Otoe County, NE resident Jeremy Baker, 19, who helps his grandfather farm near Paul, NE.
There was very little left of his grandfather’s tractor, either, which Baker was operating with a disc attached, as he was nearing the end of a six-mile trip from one of his grandfather’s soybean fields, where he had been disking beans, about twilight on November 8. Jeremy had made the trip on Otoe County Road 60 many times during the past five years he has spent helping his grandfather. In fact, Jeremy is studying agriculture at Southeast Community College in Lincoln, NE, and hopes to take over for his grandfather someday.
Jeremy said he remembered stopping for a train at the UPRR/CR 60 crossing before he eased off the clutch and proceeded – directly into the path of the aforementioned train. The collision tore the tractor in half, hitting right behind the cab, and dragged Jeremy and the front half of the tractor hundreds of feet down the track before coming to a stop. At that point, he remembers extricating himself from the wreckage and asking the train’s conductor what had happened.
Otoe County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Mike Holland arrived on the scene quickly, finding the rear half of the tractor with the disc still attached still at the crossing. He found Jeremy down the tracks, leaning against the remains of the tractor’s front half. “He was conscious and alert,” observed the Chief Deputy, “and in a pretty fair amount of pain.”
Jeremy was taken to Nebraska City by ambulance, and was then airlifted by helicopter to a hospital in Lincoln, NE for treatment of his injuries.
Ten days later, still convinced he had waited for one train and been struck by another, Jeremy returned to the crossing.
According to Chief Deputy Holland, Jeremy had experienced a phenomenon in which the victim of a traumatic crash can render his memory both inaccurate and unreliable. The railroad has only a single track crossing CR 60, with an average daily train county of 15, and has only standard, passive railroad crossbuck signs to protect the public from trains at the tree-enshrouded crossing.
Jeremy’s grandmother, Diane Reese, accompanied him on his revisit of the accident scene, and said Jeremy was noticeably shaken when he saw evidence of the collision that had not been cleaned up. She said the force of the impact, the violence of the crash and his good fortune at surviving the accident were all sinking in.
“It’s an accident – it happens,” said Jeremy of the crash that could easily have killed him. But he still is unable to recall anything between the actual collision and when he found himself carried by the train hundreds of feet down the tracks.
Flashing lights, bells and crossing gates – none of which were present at the crossing – might have made the accident something that never happened – and Jeremy would have nothing to remember.