(Coleman, Texas – September 18, 2012)
On Monday afternoon at about 5:00 P.M., the small central Texas county town of Coleman (population 5,127) suffered its second railroad-related accidental fatality in less than two months when local resident Rex Brooks, Jr., 33, was killed by a Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight train as he walked beside BNSF tracks near the end of West Street, where there is no crossing.
The victim was walking east beside the tracks 1,000 feet west of the Colorado Street grade crossing, when he was overtaken and struck by the 6,500-ton train at 55 mph. The impact threw the victim 72 feet east and into a trackside ditch as the train continued 2,000 feet before coming to a halt.
Coleman Chief of Police Jay Moses said Brooks was wearing ear plugs attached to a cell phone, and may never have been aware of the train, one of an average of 14 BNSF trains that pass through Coleman daily.
On August 2 of this year, the driver of an 18-wheeler hauling 30 head of cattle was killed when his rig was struck by another BNSF train at the dangerous, unguarded crossing of Frio Street in Coleman at about 7:00 P.M. in the evening. Vergel Dewayne Birmingham of Hugo, OK was still alive after the 50-car freight train separated the truck’s tractor from its trailer and shoved the wreckage and the victim 600 yards west of the point of impact before stopping. Two bystanders extricated the mortally injured victim from the 2012 Kenworth’s cab before it burst into flames, but Birmingham was pronounced dead at the Coleman County Medical Center 35 minutes later.
The two fatal accidents have spurred a campaign by members of Brooks’ family, Peggy and Danielle Graham, to place a slower speed limit on trains passing through the Coleman County seat. The current limit is 55 mph.
“They (the trains) just fly through town,” complained Danielle, lamenting that “if they could just slow down a tad that maybe, when he (the locomotive engineer) hit the emergency brake it would have slowed (the train) down fast enough (to stop), or at least not hit him (Brooks) so hard.