(Midland, Texas – June 3, 2013)
Memories and nightmares of a horrible Midland, TX railroad crossing tragedy last November 15 were resurrected Monday at about 10:31 A.M., when an 18-wheeler apparently became immobilized by a humped crossing only seven crossings west of the site of the Nov. 15 tragedy, which killed four and injured another two dozen. This time the tragedy happened at the Fairgrounds Road crossing of the same Union Pacific Railroad tracks as the Midland, TX parade tragedy.
The driver, Steven Baker, 53, of Riverside, CA was killed as he unsuccessfully attempted to extricate his tractor-trailer that had become impaled upon the high-profile, low ground clearance crossing, and was struck and killed by a UPRR freight train consisting of three locomotives and 52 rail cars, mostly tank cars loaded with crude oil, liquefied petroleum gas and hydrochloric acid traveling from Fort Worth, TX to Monahans, TX.
“You could hear the train coming,” recalled eyewitness and clerk at a nearby filling station Lillian Patton. “You could see him (Baker) trying to go back and he couldn’t go back. He got stuck,” she explained.
“He couldn’t go forward, he couldn’t go back,” said Midland County Sheriff Gary Painter, who added that “At the last minute he tried to get out and was struck by the train.”
Painter described the collision as “horrible,” and that the crash brought back memories of the Nov. 15 multiple fatality that killed four wounded warriors during a parade honoring their service and sacrifice. “I was there and it was just horrible,” added the Sheriff as he recalled the Nov. 15, 2012 tragedy. “It brings it back, and we’ll have to live through that again,” he lamented.
Patton was among several witnesses who ran to the site of Monday’s tragic event, where they found the driver still alive inside the wreckage of his truck tractor’s cab, his seat belt still buckled. “My heart just dropped” said Patton. “We ran across the street, and my boss, Tammy, was holding his hand”, and telling him that help was coming. “He was just gasping for air and Tammy was just holding his hand, telling him it was going to be okay.”
But, tragically, it was not, and the victim ceased breathing and was later pronounced dead at the scene by George Zimmerman, Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace.
Union Pacific Railroad Spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza confirmed that video footage taken from the train’s lead locomotive showed the semi immobile for at least 22 seconds, that the engineer was sounding the train’s horn for the same amount of time, and that the crossing’s gates, bells and lights were working properly. However, she said the reason the tractor-trailer was stopped on the tracks was unknown.
Public agency respondents to the accident included Midland City Police and Fire Department, Texas Dept. of Public Safety and the Midland County Sheriff’s Dept.
The crossing had not been the site of an accident for a number of years, but has a history of four previous accidents resulting in four non-fatal injuries. Monday’s was the first death suffered there.
Sheriff Painter added that the Baker was not the sole casualty in the accident, as his best friend, his dog, also died in the collision. Therefore, Midland Animal Control also responded to the tragedy.