(Midland, Oregon – December 10, 2013)
Two people are dead and a third seriously injured, all members of the same family, after their SUV was struck by a Union Pacific freight train at the dangerous and unguarded private crossing of an unnamed access road off Highway 97 in Midland, OR just prior to 11:00 A.M. Tuesday morning.
The vehicle, a Jeep SUV, was struck and overturned by the train, which continued on for a mile before coming to a halt, and the lone survivor, Nicholas Conway, 27, was able to struggle to the highway for help. A worker at the Midland Post Office, Jan Leeper, said that local residents “Terry and Roger Smith were just coming into the post office, and she (Terry) came to the window. I was helping her and Roger came running in and said that a man had come from across the street Route 97). They’d been hit by a train and he was bleeding badly, and was asking for a blanket.”
Indeed, Smith had visually surveyed the aftermath of the tragedy from Highway 97, not realizing what had occurred until the survivor emerged from the wreckage of the vehicle and walked toward Smith, who then ran inside the Post Office and asked that someone call 9-11. Nicholas, meanwhile, was described as disoriented and did not even realize the vehicle in which he and his wife, Kalla Conway, 25, were riding while his older brother, MacKenzie Conway, 33, was at the wheel, had been hit by a train. The elder Conway was pronounced dead at the scene, as was the survivor’s wife, who was ejected from the Jeep upon impact.
The crossing has only passive railroad signage, the likes of which has no capability to warn the driving public that any of the daily average of 19 trains, including Amtrak, are approaching the crossing at speeds as high as 70 mph. The intersection lacks any active crossing protective devices like flashing lights, bells or crossing gates, devices which, when properly functioning, can give warning that no cross-buck sign ever can. It is virtually certain that lights and gates would have prevented this incident. Both Union Pacific and Operation Lifesaver know 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%.
The injured victim was taken to Sky Lakes Medical Center in Klamath Falls, OR for treatment of severe head injuries.
Oregon State Police troopers and fire and law enforcement personnel from Klamath County all responded to the tragedy.