(Elk River, Minnesota – February 17, 2014)
A toddler and his mother were tearfully reunited last Monday morning just after 7:00 A.M. when the car they were in became stuck at the BNSF railroad crossing of Proctor Avenue in Elk River, MN and was dealt a glancing blow by a Northstar (Northstar Corridor Development Authority) Minneapolis-bound passenger train.
Anja Bochenski, 33, of Big Lake, MN waited at the BNSF/Proctor crossing while one train passed, and, once the gates had retracted, began to drive across the double-track main line, only to have the gates start to descend once again as the passenger train approached from the opposite direction. She was on her way first to her 15-month-old son’s, (Henry) day care in Elk River, MN, and then on to her work at SuperValu in Eden Prairie, MN, and immediately threw on her car’s brakes and tried to back up, but the crossing surface was slick with ice and packed snow. And about that time, as she tried to turn her car to avoid the train, another car, driven by Davis Ninnemann, 37, of St. Louis Park, MN, crashed into hers and knocked it into the train’s path.
As the panic-stricken mother tried every gear of the car to make it move, she then began punching controls realizing “OK, I gotta get out of here. I just started frantically pushing every button on the door to see if something would work, and the windows went down,” recalled Bochenski. “So I was able to unbuckle and crawl out of my window.”
She ran around the car to reach her young son, who was properly secured in his child safety seat in the back seat. But as the train bore down upon them, all she could do was to wave her arms at the train’s engineer, who had already applied the train’s emergency brakes, but not in time to avoid the collision.
Realizing her situation was hopeless, the mother stood aside as the train smashed into her car with Henry still inside. Fortunately, the train, which did not stop until it had gone a quarter of a mile down the tracks, knocked the now-heavily-damaged vehicle off the tracks, and Anja retrieved her crying son from the wreckage. She then carried him to a nearby business to await paramedics and police.
Metro Transit Police had both mother and son transported to a medical facility, where the boy’s only injury proved to be a bruised collar bone, caused by the safety seat’s belt.
Ms. Bochenski missed work both Monday and Tuesday, but returned to her job Wednesday. “It’s like your mind wants you to think that it didn’t happen, or that it was a bad dream,” she told St. Cloud Times Writer Kirsti Marohn. “You just don’t want to believe that it was real.”
Anja credited a guardian angel for watching over her and her son, who she was told will have no memory of the accident that nearly cost both of them their lives. “Even this morning, he was watching Thomas the Train, and he was happy,” said Bochenski.
The crossing where the near-tragedy occurred sees a daily average of 43 BNSF freight and Northstar passenger trains, which can operate at speeds as high as 75 mph according to the Federal Railroad Administration. FRA records also note that the crossing was the site of a fatality four years ago in 2010.