(Athens, Tennessee – October 2, 2016)
A 21-year-old Tennessee mother and fiancé followed another car across the non-gated Athens, TN Norfolk Southern railroad crossing of Howard Street Sunday at about 4:00 P.M. only to be struck and fatally injured by a westbound train, one of a daily average of 23 trains that roll over Howard Street at a maximum permissible speed of 60 mph.
Alana Jade King of Athens was alone in her car when it was hit by the NS freight train, and was unresponsive as rescue crews retrieved her from the car’s wreckage and transported her to the Starr Regional Medical Center in Athens. She later succumbed to her injuries.
Adding to the tragedy, the crossing, which is equipped with flashing lights, was already three months into the snail’s pace process to add gates to the crossing’s safety package.
The contract to upgrade the crossing’s signage and add gates was signed in July, but, according to the railroad, was awaiting TDOT’s approval to begin construction. But it was too late for Sunday’s victim.
“If they did something about it, then my friend Jade would not be dead right now,” neighbor Jerry Simpson lamented to WRCB-TV Reporter Kelly McCarthy.
“That is in the plan, to upgrade that crossing with a guarded type that has the arms that actually drop when a train is coming,” said Athens Police Dept. Capt. Rob Davis.
“This accident could have been easily prevented if they had that; somebody’s life could have been saved because of it,” added another neighbor, Charissa Ryan.
“If she would have seen the rails (gates) come down, it wouldn’t have happened at all,” mourned King’s fiancé, Ashante Smith.
Train/highway vehicle accidents were no stranger to the road/rail intersection, as it had been the site of four earlier accidents, the most recent in February, 2014, which had resulted in one of a pair of non-fatal-injuries, total. Sunday’s tragedy was the first fatality to occur there.