(Flora, Mississippi – May 18, 2016)
A 35-year-old father and his two children, ages 7 and 1, died from what Madison County, MS Coroner Alex Breeland called “blunt force trauma” after Amtrak’s Chicago-bound “City of New Orleans” train with 127 passengers and crew members on board collided with the father’s red pickup truck at the non-gated crossing of Kearney Park Road and Canadian National Railway tracks in Flora, MS at about 6:11 P.M. early Wednesday evening.
Authorities said the father, Michael Ray Allen, Jr., was properly using his seat belt harness as was his 7-year-old stepdaughter, Mikilah West, and that his 1-year-old toddler son, Michael Ray Allen III, was correctly confined to a child seat. The train was one of a daily average of 18 CN freight and Amtrak passenger movements that cross the angular, reportedly rough-surfaced crossing at maximum speeds of 79 mph.
The father was reportedly heading home after picking up his children at a day care facility. He exited Simmons Road onto Kearney Park Road and immediately encountered the CN rail crossing which, although equipped with mast-mounted flashing lights, lacked crossing gates, which likely would have prevented this collision. Studies have shown that the addition of gates to lights only crossings reduce accident rates by up to two-thirds.
“I just started hollering ‘Train, train, train…no, no, no, no,’’’ eyewitness Deborah Armstrong told WAPT-TV, Channel 16 Jackson, MS News Reporter Anne Parker. “All of a sudden, he just, the train just struck, and it just (dragged) him on down the road. When my sister ran down, you know, the truck was in front of the train,” the witness continued. “I started calling 911. I couldn’t hardly talk to them because I was so messed up, so hysterical about what had gone on,” Armstrong breathlessly concluded.
An e-mail respondent to WAPT-TV’s comment line observed that “there is no gate at the Kearney Park crossing, which recently has also developed several HUGE potholes, big enough to hang up your vehicle when you slow down to cross that terrible crossing. Such an unnecessary tragedy”.
Records kept by the Federal Railroad Administration did not list the occurrence of any previous accidents at the road/rail intersection.