(Harriman, Tennessee – May 30, 2014)
A tragedy took two young adult lives and caused serious injury to two more, all of whom were students and athletes at Roane State Community College in Roane County, TN, Friday evening at about 9:30 P.M. when their 2000 Nissan Maxima was struck and dragged by a Norfolk Southern freight train going about 40 mph at the dangerous, unguarded crossing of Mountain View Road and NS railroad tracks in Harriman, TN.
Killed were two members of the college’s men’s’ and women’s basketball teams’, while two other students sustained serious injuries. One of the dead, Roderick Drummond, 22, a star player from Greenville, SC, was named South Carolina’s most outstanding high school basketball player when he was a student at Greenville’s Wade Hampton High School.
The car was driven by RSCC basketball player Darius Galliher, 20, of Harriman, and the other student athlete who was killed was Darius’ sister, Jadah Gallaher, 18, also of Harriman and a player on the RSCC women’s basketball team. The other student injured was Hunter Crass, 20, a resident of Harriman as well, and both he and the driver were airlifted by Lifestar helicopter to The University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville.
Witnesses to the tragedy said that it appeared that the driver didn’t see the oncoming train when he pulled in front of it at the crossing, across which, according to Federal Railroad Administration reports, a daily average of 70 trains travel at a top allowable speed of 60 mph. Daily car and truck traffic, which is limited to a speed of 20 mph, numbers a little more than 200 vehicles at the single-track, barely-two-lane asphalt road intersection.
The railroad crossing has no active warning devices to warn of oncoming trains, such as lights and gates.. The crossing is made even less visible through the presence of considerable tree foliage and overgrown underbrush in both directions of train approach. It is virtually certain that lights and gates would have prevented this incident. Both Norfolk Southern 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%.
As of Saturday, the conditions of the injured were diagnosed and reported to news media by either RSCC Basketball Coach and Athletic Director Randy Nesbit or Hunter Crass’s father. Nesbit said Darius Gallaher “sustained a fracture in his neck, but there will be no paralysis. They are also looking at getting him off a ventilator and are hoping to wake him up later today. It is looking optimistic for his recovery.”
Hunter’s father, Neil Crass, meanwhile, reported that his son had already been removed from the ventilator and was breathing on his own. He added that Hunter suffered kidney, spleen and liver lacerations, a collapsed lung, cuts and two broken ribs.
Roane State President Dr. Chris Whaley issued a statement which said, in part, that “We all share in the sense of loss and pain when students’ lives are touched by tragedy. Please know that our hearts and our prayers are with our extended Roane State family.”
As might be expected, hearts were heavy at Big Emory Church in Harriman Sunday, as the church, pastured by Rev. Neil Crass, father of one of the injured victims of Friday’s train crossing tragedy, congregation gathered in a prayer service for all those affected by the horrible accident.
“We had heard and we were praying about the people that were hurt in the train wreck, but we had no idea it was our Hunter,” said Big Emory member Fred Tedder, who is Hunter’s great uncle. Talking to Channel 6, WATE-TV News Anchor Hayley Harmon, Tedder said the accident has devastated the community, but he did see hope from the tragedy. “They’ve (the survivors) got to be a miracle for the two of them to live. For anybody to live out of a train crash, it had to be a miracle.”
Wesley Jones, the high school basketball coach of the other survivor, Darius Gallaher, at Harriman High, lauded the young man’s character. “As good of an athlete as he was didn’t approach the kind of person he was,’ noted Coach Jones.
Meanwhile, Harriman St. Mary’s Baptist Church Pastor Willie Gallaher was recalling the life of his daughter. “It was my baby girl, Jadah; she was born at UT through a situation where we didn’t know if her mother was going to make it. But God brought us through that. We have seen a miracle through that,” he told WBIR Reporter Jeff Mondlock.
The Gallahers’ connection with Roane State was a multi-generation one, in that Willie had played basketball for Coach Nesbit 22 years ago, and his competitive spirit coupled with his faith are attributes which will hopefully carry him and his wife through the crisis. “It’s going to be hard,” predicted the Pastor. “Faith does not negate the fact that you have to deal with life. It just helps you deal with life…in a way that you know you are going to overcome,” said Rev. Gallaher.
James Burem, a lifelong friend of the Gallaher’s and one of hundreds of mourners who stopped by to offer hope and encouragement to the grieving family, noted that “They know that we will all stand behind them and give them all the support they will need for these days and weeks to come.”
Another friend of the Gallaher’s since childhood, KC Coleman, told WVLT-TV, Channel 8 Reporter Steven Powell that ít just goes through your mind, and you just can’t believe this happened to some young kids like this.” Coleman was near the location of the accident and was one of the first people on the scene.
“It’s heartbreaking,” noted Coleman. This is affecting the whole city. These are real good people. They have a lot to do with the city. They grew up here. This is a small town and you don’t hear about stuff happening like this.”
But some of the most critical facts came from the lips of Sean Gibson, a close friend of all the Harriman families, and who was still in shock that something so tragic could happen to such caring people. “They’d help you out anytime. Anything you needed – and now they need us to help them get through this.”
Gibson noted that “Drivers say they’ve never felt safe at this railroad crossing. They say that because of the tree line. It’s almost impossible to see the tracks until you’re right up on them, “stated Gibson, adding that “Things need to be done to keep this from happening again!”