(Falkville, Alabama – June 14, 2013)
A revered and retired high school administrator and football coach died at a Huntsville, AL hospital Friday afternoon after the Chevrolet pickup truck he was driving was crushed by a CSX freight train at the non-gated crossing of CSX rails and East 2nd Street in Falkville, AL.
Coach O.B. Owens, 74, of Danville, AL, who first gained fame as an assistant coach to legendary Coach C.T. Manley at Colbert County High School and later successfully served as head football coach at Danville High School, was crossing the non-gated intersection which, although equipped with flashing lights, has no barrier gate to protect the driving public from tragedies such as Friday’s, when he encountered the oncoming CSX train. The mast-mounted flashers were destroyed when the victim’s pickup truck was knocked into them by the force of the train.
The crossing has its own “legendary” record, having now been the site of five train/highway vehicle collisions that cumulatively resulted in four fatalities and one non-fatal injury. Crossing gates, the missing element in the most effective accident prevention system (flashing lights and gates), could have been instrumental in guarding the driving public from the daily average of 27 freight trains which cross there at a maximum speed of 50 mph. Yet, the flashing lights never were supplemented by gates.
Due to suffering massive internal injuries, the victim was flown by helicopter to Huntsville Hospital, where he later died.
A lifetime educator, Owens later served as principal at Falkville High School until his retirement. His wife, Linda, is also a retired teacher, having taught at Danville Neel Elementary School. The couple’s daughter, Jonna Owens-Lee is a counselor at Danville High School. The Owens’ owned and operated Apple’s Florist after their retirement from teaching, and O.B. served as a member of the board of directors for the Joe Wheeler Electric Membership Co-op.
As mentioned earlier, this incident happened at a dangerous, unguarded crossing. It is virtually certain that lights and gates would have prevented this incident. Both CSX and Operation Lifesaver know 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 can gates offer the ability to drastically reduce the number of vehicle/train accidents by as much as 96%.