(Union, Oregon –December 29, 2015)
Three Oregon residents, enjoying the day with their dog, all lost their lives Tuesday afternoon at about 2:54 P.M., PST when the driver of a blue Jeep Cherokee SUV was hit by an eastbound Union Pacific freight train at the dangerous and unguarded crossing of UPRR tracks and Miller Lane near Union, OR.
Investigators were unable to determine who was driving the ill-fated vehicle which was also travelling eastbound on Curtis Road, which closely parallels the UPRR tracks that Federal Railroad Administration documents say accommodates a daily average of 25 trains at a maximum allowable speed of 70 mph. According to Staff Writer Nuran Nalteir of The Portland Oregonian the victims were identified as Clayton Forrest Colpitts, 43, Penny Jo Colpitts, 40, and their dog, all of Union, and James Austin Johnson, 20, of Chiloquin, OR. The Colpitts were believed to be husband and wife, but there was no word of what, if any, relationship Johnston had to the couple.
There may have been little indication to the drivers of the approaching train, as there is only minimal vehicular storage space on the east approach of Miller Lane and the railroad tracks once a motorist leaves Curtis Road. As previously mentioned, this crossing also lacks any form of active warning protection, such as lights and gates. It is virtually certain that if this crossing was equipped with lights and gates, this accident and the two prior accidents would not have happened. Both Union Pacific 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%
Oregon State Police, Union County Sheriff’s Office, Union Fire and Ambulance and La Grande Ambulance responded to the collision.