(Newton, North Carolina – June 25, 2013)
For the second time in less than a week, an employee of Southern Furniture’s facility near Newton, NC has been injured in a collision with a Norfolk Southern freight train at the private, dangerous and unguarded crossing accessing the company’s manufacturing plant just off East 26th Street late Tuesday morning.
Ironically, both the victim of Tuesday’s accident, who was airlifted to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, NC, where he was admitted in serious condition with what were described as “life-threatening injuries”, and the driver in last week’s collision at the same crossing are employees of Southern Furniture. Neither victim’s name was available from Conover, NC police (the collisions occurred in the community of Newton, NC, but the wreckage from each wreck was pushed into the adjacent city of Conover).
As previously stated, this incident happened at a dangerous, unguarded crossing. It is virtually certain that lights and gates would have prevented this incident. Both Norfolk Southern 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 and gates offer the ability to drastically reduce the number of vehicle/train accidents by as much as 96%.
The train, pulling 60 cars, each loaded with 80 tons of scrubber limestone and traveling at 35 mph from Asheville, NC to Catawba, NC, was one of a daily average of 18 trains that roll over the crossing at maximum allowable speeds of 45 mph. It dragged the car, with the victim still inside, over 700 feet beyond the point of impact, with the white Chevrolet freeing itself from the front of the locomotive as the train slowed to a halt. Members of the Newton-Conover Rescue Squad had to cut the unconscious victim from the remains of his vehicle. The impacts in both accidents occurred on the passenger side of each vehicle involved, possibly lessening, if only slightly, the injuries to the lone occupants of each.
The driver in Tuesday’s crash was a 33-year-old, six-year employee of the furniture manufacturer. No information was available on the driver in last week’s collision, but he had reportedly already returned to work at Southern Furniture this week, having been treated at and released from a local emergency room for minor injuries.
“Police question whether the driver ever saw or heard the train,” reported WCNC-TV, NBC Channel 13 in Charlotte, NC’s Glenn Counts. Conover Police Chief Steve Brewer also verified the fact that the accident was the second one at that crossing in a week’s time.
Eyewitness Kay Brittian, who lives directly across the street from the SF plant, frantically made the 911 call, and observed “What got me was he (the locomotive engineer) didn’t slow down, or it didn’t seem like it..”
Another witness and trackside resident, John Hastings, described the futility of those, like him, who raced to offer aid to the accident victim. “I just started praying for him,” he recalled.
Another resident who lives near the crossing, Jennifer Hefner, a certified nurse’s assistant, ran to aid the victim, still in his car, and found him unconscious. “I knew not to try and move him,” she said.
Police also hoped a surveillance camera mounted at an Emergency Medical Services base near the crossing might have taken evidentiary footage of the crash. Meanwhile, Norfolk Southern officials were silent on offering police the video taken from the locomotive’s nose camera.