(Morristown, North Carolina – November 16, 2015)
The tragic deaths of a Cary, NC couple in a collision between a westbound Norfolk Southern freight train and their Toyota Camry at the questionably-designed crossing of Morrisville-Carpenter Road (erroneously labeled as “Aviation Parkway” on Federal Railroad Administration rail crossing inventory records) have raised serious concerns about the crossing’s configuration as new information has surfaced.
The driver, William l. Flint, 86, and his 83-year-old wife Dorothy L. Flint, were trying to turn off of Morrisville-Carpenter and onto NC 54 (Chapel Hill Road) when their vehicle accidentally turned onto the railroad tracks, which cross the access ramp leading to NC 54, and became impaled upon the tracks. The close proximity between the roadway and the railway, as well as the lack of adequate overhead lights to illuminate the crossing, even though it is completely signalized (lights and gates), has the victims’ family members now raising questions about the design which led to their beloved parents’ and grandparents’ tragic and untimely deaths. The couple was in the process of evacuating their stranded vehicle when the train, one of a daily average of 16 freight and Amtrak passenger trains that the FRA says travel through there at a top allowable speed of 60 mph, approached the crossing.
“My dad was out of the car and my mom had fallen and my dad was trying to help her up,” related the victims’ daughter, Carolyn Cameron, in an interview with Steve Sbraccia of Raleigh, NC TV station WNCN. “She walked very slowly (as she used a walker and a cane) to keep from falling down,” Cameron continued. “He died trying to help her. That’s the kind of man he was. He wasn’t going to leave her side even as the train bore down on them,” she concluded.
Eugene Cameron, the victims’ grandson, spoke from his heart as he told the TV reporter that “My grandfather, it was as if he was my dad. He had ‘heart-to-hearts’ with us. They were all in their grandchildren’s lives and great grandchildren’s lives,” said the grieving grandson.
The crossing is notorious in its record as documentation from both the NCDOT and FRA reflect. In fact, Saturday’s tragic collision was the 15th to occur there, the most recent having been another double fatality which occurred little more than a year ago on August 29, 2014, when a motorist unsuccessfully tried to reverse her vehicle after being trapped on the track as a train approached.
NCDOT told WNCN that the crossing was “upgraded” in 2009 when concrete islands, an additional traffic lane and more crossing gates. Whether or not the changes were instrumental in leading to the tragedy is not yet known. However, NCDOT told the TV reporter it, along with other agencies, will “examine” the report on the accident and “reevaluate” the crossing. Meanwhile, a Town of Morrisville spokesperson told WNCN that the crossing was “upgraded to its current configuration” in 2011.
But one thing for sure, Carolyn Cameron is convinced that the lack of lighting contributed to the tragic circumstances. “I went there the last two nights in a row,” she testified. “It was so dark you can’t see!”
“Having that turn that way makes it more dangerous,” she added. “If it went straight to the street (NC 54), that would help.” But the main point of her emphasis came down to the criticism that “it needs to be lit up like daylight!”