(Culver, Oregon – July 14, 2016)
A 52-year-old mother was killed and her son and two nieces were injured Thursday afternoon at about 5:30 P.M., PDT at BNSF crossing near Culver, OR. The motorist stopped her eastbound pickup for the stop sign at Gem Lane and BNSF tracks, but then pulled forward and was struck by a 7-car BNSF freight train, which she was clearly never saw coming.
A dozen BNSF freight trains daily traverse the crossing at maximum allowable speeds of 50 mph. At least three school buses travel over the crossing on a daily basis, and it has been the site of three previous accidents.
As Jefferson County Sheriff’s Patrol Captain Marc Heckathorn noted to KTVZ-TV News Reporter Barney Lerten, “The railroad crossing has signs, but no flashing lights or arms to block the intersection when a train is approaching.” It is virtually certain that if this crossing was equipped with lights and gates, this collision would not have happened. Both BNSF 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%.
Lourdes Perez was the mother who succumbed to her crash injuries en route to St. Charles Hospital in Bend, OR. Her son, whose name was not immediately available, was admitted in fair condition. Both victims were thrown from the pickup due to the force of the collision. The 10-year-old girls, whose names were also not available, were taken to St. Charles Redmond and St. Charles Madras Hospitals, respectively. Both were treated for injuries and released. All four victims were residents of Madras, OR.
According to numerous witnesses, Perez approached the tracks, stopped momentarily, and then proceeded into the path of the train she apparently neither heard nor saw. Several of the witnesses responded to the tragedy, one of them a local farmer who was able to extinguish a small fire in the victims’ pickup before first responder firefighters and paramedics arrived on the scene.
Capt. Heckathorn also told KTVZ News that Perez was able to see the unrelated crash ahead of her (on the opposite side of the BNSF single track), “but failed to notice a BNSF freight train” headed north from Culver. “She pulled out into the path of the train and was struck on the passenger side, causing the truck to flip north of Gem Lane, landing in a ditch on the west side of the tracks.”
When the tragedy occurred, Jefferson County SO officers halted their field sobriety test on one of the participants in the accident on Southwest Culver Highway (State Highway 361) and ran to the aid of the victims of the train/pickup tragedy.