(Poteau, Oklahoma – August 7, 2016)
An Oklahoma mother and her four young children were involved in a serious crossing collision Sunday afternoon at about 1:24 P.M., CDT at the lighted but non-gated crossing of Kansas City Southern railroad tracks and Dewey Avenue in Poteau, OK, about 15 miles from the Arkansas/Oklahoma state line. As a result of the collision three children and the mother were killed. A fourth child was seriously injured.
The driver of the 2011 Chevrolet Malibu, 37-year-old April Goines, of Shady Point, OK, was headed east when she was struck by the northbound KCS coal train. Even though there have been public and news complaints about the lack of crossing gates at the crossing as well as previous collisions, the crossing still lacks automatic gates. Studies have shown that the addition of gates to crossings with only lights can reduce accidents by two-thirds.
The sole survivor of the tragedy, 8-year-old Jaclynn, who already suffered from cystic kidney condition since her birth, and to whom her mother had donated a kidney two years ago, was airlifted to St. John’s Hospital in Tulsa. She was reported to be in serious condition. The three deceased boys, ages 17, 12 and 7, were her brothers. Emergency responders had to work for some time using the Jaws of Life to extricate the victims from the Malibu’s wreckage. All four children were said to be students in the Panama Consolidated School District.
Reporting from the scene, KHBS-TV Fort Smith’s Brett Rains was critical of the lack of a gate at the crossing, saying “It does not have arms or bars that drop down to stop cars from crossing the tracks when a train is approaching.”
Talking to Fort Smith KFSM Channel 5’s Jordan Tidwell, Poteau resident Sonja Thomas, who lives near the crossing, was equally critical of the lack of crossing gates, saying “The red lights are on, but people respond better to the arms, because they won’t go around that.”
“It’s been a long time since we’ve had something this horrific,” Poteau Assistant Police Chief Greg Russell told KHBS Channel 29/40 News. “It’s hard to wrap your mind around it, for all intents and purposes, that almost an entire family was wiped out.”
A longtime friend and co-worker of April’s, Carrie Simpson, told KHBS that “April was like our glue, our rock. If we needed anything, April was there. She had your back.” She added that April was a “nurse who always put her children and her patients first.”
“Something had to have happened inside that car,” Simpson continued. “I don’t know what. One of her children had a form of Tourette’s (syndrome). Sometimes he would have little seizures. Maybe the kids were distracting her, but she would never put her kids’ lives in danger.”
Simpson’s concern then turned to the sole surviving victim. “There’s big plans for Jaclynn, I believe. She’s just overcome so much in her little life, so much heartbreak.”
News Writer Samantha Vicent of the Tulsa World said that she could get no response from Kansas City Southern’s public affairs spokeswoman, as Poteau and KCS Police conducted their grim investigation, but did reach FRA Spokeswoman Desiree French, who said that the FRA’s investigation into the tragedy was ongoing, but would withhold comment on the crash until the investigation is complete.
According to the Federal Railroad Administration, a daily average of at least two dozen KCS trains traverse the Dewey Avenue crossing at maximum allowable speeds of 55 mph.