(Alta, Iowa – February 20, 2014)
As residents of the Buena Vista County, Iowa community of Alta continue to mourn the deaths of two sisters, ages two and four, who died several hours after the car their brother was driving and they and their mother were riding was struck by a Canadian National freight train at the non-gated crossing of South Main Street and CNR tracks last Thursday, February 13, afternoon, city officials are already pursuing the addition of crossing gates for the deadly crossing.
Chloe Binder, 4, and Camille Binder, 2, both of whom were properly restrained in child safety seats in the car’s back seat, died February 14 after being flown to a hospital in Sioux Falls, SD. Their mother, Heather Binder, 37, who was seated in the front passenger seat of the vehicle, was also flown there for treatment of her serious injuries suffered in the crash. Mrs. Binder’s 15-year-old son and the girls’ brother, Nathaniel (Nate) Harms of Storm Lake, IA, was driving the car legally on an Iowa Driver’s Learner Permit, and was hospitalized in Storm Lake.
The family had been customers at Cindy Pederson’s restaurant in Alta only minutes before the tragic train/car collision. “Really, I was in shock,” recalled Pederson to KCAU-TV, ABC NEWS Channel 9 in Sioux City, IA Reporter Diana Johnsen, who is now among those Alta residents pushing for the installation of gates at the CNR/South Main Street crossing. “I had just talked to them a couple of seconds before that. It was just really sad.”
Alta’s community of 1,900 is no stranger to railroad crossing tragedy at non-gated crossings. Early in the afternoon of October 8, 2008, a local farmer driving a tractor hauling two empty grain trailers and with his wife and one-year-old daughter on board the tractor, had his tractor struck by another train at the West Highway crossing of CN tracks. The mother and the couple’s daughter were both killed and the farmer seriously injured as the 66-car freight train being pulled by two locomotives hit the tractor at 28 mph, splitting it in half. Five years later, gates were added to the crossing’s warning system.
Alta Mayor Ronald Neulieb knows the process of securing gates for crossings lacking such can be a long, tedious and costly process, and has already made the first move. “I’ve already called the (Iowa) Department of Transportation,” said Mayor Neulieb. “I’ll just keep at it until we get it done,” he promised.
Meanwhile, the community of Alta continues the lengthy and painful healing process. “There’s no set time on grief,” said restaurant operator Pederson to KCAU-TV’s Johnsen. “No matter who you are, you are grieving because those two little girls were a delight. But, yeah, we’ll bounce back,” she predicted.