(Ranlo, North Carolina — July 18, 2016)
A beloved church pastor, moonlighting as a wastewater treatment truck driver, was tragically killed early Monday afternoon at about 1:15 P.M., EDT, when his truck was struck at a dangerous and unguarded private rail crossing. NCDOT-owned, Iowa Pacific Holdings-operated Piedmont & Northern operates over the crossing, which is located barely in the city limits of Ranlo, NC, just across the dividing line between that community and Lowell, NC in Gaston County.
Family and congregational members of New Canaan Baptist Church in Gastonia, NC were mourning the tragic death of Pastor Thomas Collins, Jr. He was killed when he attempted to drive his Waste Management Services truck across the brush-obscured and unsignalized private crossing serving the facility. His employer said he went by the name of “TC”, and left a family consisting of his wife, four children and six grandchildren.
Charlotte, NC Channel 9 WSOC-TV News Anchor Liz Foster asked Ranlo Police Dept. Sgt. Brian Holland about the fact that, “There is no railroad crossing signal or stop-arm (crossing gate) where the fatal accident happened. Channel 9 asked Holland if he wants those safety precautions at the intersection with train tracks.”Sgt. Holland was quick with his answer to the news anchor’s lights and gates question, saying “I wish there was.”
It is virtually certain that if this crossing was equipped with lights and gates, this collision would not have happened. NCDOT, Piedmont & Northern, 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%.
Federal Railroad Administration records indicate that the speed limit for trains using the crossing is 30 mph. It was not known if the horn was blown, it was reported by eyewitness Brandi Moses that “The guys in the train tried to get him (the victim) out, but I believe he was pinned in.” Another witness, Karen Owens, said that the train goes by “three or four times a day.”
The impact with the train tore off the truck’s forward portion and caused it to burst into flames, according to witnesses. “We heard the big, old ‘boom’ and then walked down there and saw it blow up,” related Moses. Another witness, Alyssa Payne said that “We saw his (the victim’s) legs. All that was hanging out was his legs.”
“It took like five or six other guys from Waste Management,” said Owens, who not only lives near the tragic scene but videotaped much of the aftermath, including the frantic arrival on the scene of the victim’s wife, who had been in the area purchasing produce.
A news release from Waste Management, was issued soon after the tragic crash, saying that “We are profoundly sad for the family of the deceased and for the Waste Management family. This is a heartbreaking incident, and our deepest sympathies go out to those affected and their families.”
The church now plans a memorial prayer service for Pastor Collins Tuesday evening at 6:30 P.M. He was described by friends as “a good Christian man, who had an upbeat persona and a passion for the Washington Redskins.”
Chicago-headquartered Iowa Pacific Holdings, which owns or manages a number of railroads, was appointed operator of the short line Piedmont Northern Railway by owner NCDOT in April, 2015.