(Toccoa, Georgia – May 3, 2013)
A man and two women, all in their 20’s, two from the Atlanta, GA suburb of Austell, GA, and all travelling to Toccoa, GA to visit family, were tragically killed Friday night about 9:45 P.M. when the 2008 Mazda they were in was struck by a northbound Amtrak passenger train at the dangerous, unprotected crossing of Summit Ridge/Grant Smith Road and Norfolk Southern railroad tracks, dragged some 300 yards, overturned numerous times, ejecting one occupant, and ultimately thrown upside-down into a ravine, where it caught fire.
Stephens County Coroner Christopher Stephens finally Monday identified those killed as Erich Boecklbauer, 23, and Areale Leight Nunn, 22, both from Austell, and Crystal Crews, 20, of Kennesaw, GA. It is believed all three victims were killed instantly.
The railroad crossing, which has only a standard railroad crossbuck and a highway stop sign for “protection”, serves a subdivision just south of Toccoa, and sees a daily average of 27 trains at a top allowable speed of 79 mph. However, Stephens County Sheriff Randy Shirley said the New Orleans-to-Washington, DC “Southern Crescent”, with 169 passengers on board, was travelling at about 60 mph at the time of the accident. He also said no signs of alcohol or drugs being factors in the tragedy were found. “The train T-boned the 2008 Mazda,” continued Sheriff Shirley. “It was a violent crash!”
Neighbors who live near the crossing, where recent railroad tie replacement and surfacing work had resulted In the creation of a significant “berm” along each side of the double-tracked main line, told Atlanta Channel 11 TV reporters that they have been trying for years to improve the “dangerous and barely visible” crossing that claimed the three young adults’ lives Friday night.
Toccoa is about 95 miles north of Atlanta, GA. The victims were nearing an area known as “Rock Quarry Circle.”
The bodies of the victims were all transported to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab in Atlanta, GA, where autopsies are to be performed. Names of the victims were still unannounced 48 hours after the tragedy, mainly due to the condition of the bodies and the necessity of determining each individual’s identity through the capabilities of the Crime Lab.
The Association of American Railroads said in a recent study that the installation of flashing lights, bells and crossing gates could prevent 93% of accidents and deaths at railroad grade crossings. Yet, dangerous, unguarded crossings like the one at the site of Friday night’s tragedy continue to exist.
Records show that the most recent accident at the Summit Ridge/Grant Smith Road intersection with NS railroad tracks was a non-injury collision on August 26, 2005.