(Louisville, Kentucky – March 17, 2015)
The non-gated Norfolk Southern railroad crossing where two teenaged Jefferson County, KY high school students and members of the Bhutanese refugee community died Saturday and two others, also Bhutanese and high schoolers, were critically injured when the white Toyota they were all in was struck by a Norfolk Southern freight train Saturday afternoon at about 4:00 P.M. was designated for the installation of crossing gates months ago.
Chita Chawan, 16, and Suk Man Rai, 19, were seated in the front and rear passenger’s side seats of the ill-fated auto, and took the full force of the collision. The Jefferson County Coroner’s Office listed the cause of death for both as “multiple blunt force” injuries.
The driver and rear seat driver’s side passenger, Nabin Thapa, 17, and Kismat Mishra, 18, are also Bhutanese and Jefferson County High School students. The four attended four different high schools, and the Jefferson County School System was setting up counseling services at each affected school.
Both of the injured are suffering from brain injuries, and while doctors think Mishra, having been able to respond to stimuli, is on the road to recovery, while Thapa is still unable to respond.
But the real tragedy was that the accident was entirely preventable due to the location having been designated for addition of crossing gates, according to Louisville District 10 Councilman Steve Magre, who was named to fill the slot vacated when then-Councilman Jim King passed away. The approval for the $250,000 installation of gates was given in December, 2014, after a constituent who lived near the NS/Buechel/Crawford intersection had earlier alerted King to his concerns about the danger posed by the crossing’s lack of gates, and King had sent a letter to Buechel residents terming the crossing as “dangerous.”
Even though the gates are slated to be installed late this spring, Councilman Magre cautions that more than half of the highway/rail intersections in Jefferson County will still be without gates.
Railroad employee John Wright, a Louisville-headquartered locomotive engineer and co-chair of the “Railroad Workers United” organization offered his opinion from the operating railroader’s perspective, saying that they favor gates because “Most people don’t know the rules pertaining to crossings,” and that crossing gates “provide somewhat of a barrier.”
Even Tek Chawan, grieving older brother of one of the victims, agreed that the addition of crossing gates represent “the best way to stop accidents, I think,” adding that “I feel very good they are going to do it.”