Local News

Brothers ID'd in fatal Durham train crash

Posted December 10, 2009
Updated December 15, 2009

— Durham police on Thursday identified two brothers who were killed and their mother, who was injured, when an Amtrak passenger train hit their SUV near the intersection of Ellis Road and Angier Avenue early Wednesday evening.

Railroad crossing's safety questioned Railroad crossing's safety questioned

The siblings – Calvin Brandon, 9, and Hassan Bingham, 6, both of Durham – were thrown from their mother's Ford Explorer during the crash and were pronounced dead at the scene, police spokeswoman Kammie Michael said.

Investigators said the children were not wearing seat belts.

Their mother, Deborah Peaks Bingham, was treated at Duke University Hospital for non-life-threatening injuries.

"No charges have been filed at this time, and the accident remains under investigation," Michael said in a statement.

'She was trying to save her children'

The Amtrak passenger train was traveling west at approximately 79 mph when it struck the right-rear quarter panel of the SUV, around 5:19 p.m.

Michael said the Explorer was apparently sitting in traffic and was trapped after the crossing’s warning arms lowered as the train approached.

In a 911 call released Thursday afternoon, a caller told the dispatcher that Bingham was trying to get off the track when the crossing arms were lowered.

"She was trying to cut through, and she tried to back up. She couldn't. She was blocked," the caller said. "She was forced to just stay there, and the train hit her."

Norfolk Southern Railroad spokesman Robin Chapman said vehicles can easily break through the crossing arms when they are down. He said the company tested the gate's activation system and lights and found that they were working properly.

Durham resident Savannah Ford said she heard the conductor "lying down on the whistle" and then "what sounded like a transformer exploding." She said she knew it was an accident right away.

Ford said she would never forget what she heard as she ran toward the crossing.

“What was incredibly sad about it was that I heard the mother screaming, because she was trying to save her children,” she said.

Surveillance video from nearby New York Mini Mart showed the train approaching the intersection before the crash.

Ahmed Naji, who works at the convenience store, said there are often close calls at the crossing.

“People are going by the street and the train has the road closed, so they have no choice but to stop in the middle of the road,” Naji said.

The 129 people on the Amtrak train were not injured.

Brothers' elementary school grieves

Calvin and Hassan were students at Spring Valley Elementary School, which had extra counselors on hand Thursday for students and teachers who were grieving.

"There are no words to describe the loss and sorrow being felt at Spring Valley today," Principal Sylvia Bittle said in a statement.

"(They) were very bright, spirited children who were very well-liked by their classmates. They touched the hearts of their teachers and me. They were hard-working, high-achieving students, and they will be greatly missed. We share in their family’s grief, and our thoughts are with them.”

State wants to alter intersection; 11 crashes reported since 1975

Wednesday's crash marked the 11th at the Ellis Road rail crossing since 1975, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

In 2001, Barbara Ann Dickerson, of Creedmoor, died and Janet Teasley Watson, of Durham, was injured when Teasley drove her car around the railroad crossing gates and onto the tracks where a westbound Amtrak train struck it, according the police.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation has applied for stimulus money to try to put either an overpass or underpass at the intersection. Officials estimate it will cost about $13.5 million.

Highway-rail grade crossing safety

The U.S. has approximately 227,000 highway-rail grade crossings – 140,000 are at publicly owned highways and 87,000 are at privately owned roads – according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

Of the public grade crossings, about 53 percent are equipped with active warning devices.

"Overall, train-vehicle collisions are the second leading cause of rail-related fatalities in the United States," according to FRA data.

The number of train-vehicle collisions at grade crossings has been reduced by 80 percent from a high of 13,557 incidents in 1978 to 2,746 in 2007 despite significant increases in both highway and train traffic, according to the FRA.

Likewise, the number of people killed as a result of grade crossing collisions has decreased by 70 percent from a high of 1,115 in 1976 to 338 in 2007.

"Flashing lights or lights with gates do improve safety at grade crossings, but they do not prevent all collisions," according to the FRA. "Approximately half of crossing collisions occur where such active warning devices are installed and operating as intended. Nearly one-quarter of all crossing collisions involve the motor vehicle striking the side of a train that is already fully occupying the crossing."


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  • Jack Flash Dec 14, 2009

    You didn't make me think about anything other than how cowardly and insensitive some people are from the anonymity of their keyboards. The fact that a woman paid for an easy mistake at a tricky crossing I'm very familiar with with the lives of two children is all the inspiration to new thinking I need.

    You're not telling me anything by admitting you're blunt. I noticed. Admitting it doesn't change anything. It doesn't excuse being rude and it doesn't change my disgust for you.

    I find it really ironic how many people claim they're blunt and that the rest of us just have to deal with it, but can't handle it themselves when they get called out for the by-product of their bluntness: being rude, inconsiderate, hateful. You picked that course. YOU deal with it.

  • familyfour Dec 11, 2009

    And Jack, I never said the children didn't deserve my sympathy....I said I could have little sympathy for her.....

    She made a decision.

    She could have waited.....kept a safe space for herself, her vehicle.....

    Safety is key.....

    You want me to feel sympathetic for every person that puts themselves in a bad spot because something bad happened?

    We deal with the decisions we make.

    My words are my thoughts.

    If they offend you, then that is okay. Least it made you think. Same with your words to me.

    If we are all thinking, maybe things will improve, instead of worsen.

    Don't you think?!

  • familyfour Dec 11, 2009

    I don't hate anyone in this.....and my "little sympathy" has been culled from endless news stories....endless occurrences that "could have been prevented".

    Please do not think my heart does not break for the two little ones who lost their lives, and for the friends and families that are suffering. I am not that cold.

    I am, however, very blatant when it comes to should and should nots.

    I see I have struck a nerve with you.

    I do not necessarily care more about the law than the children, but there are laws in place to protect us all, including the children, and it would appear that some of those may not have been followed as properly as they could have been.

    If you knew me at all, you would know I am very compassionate, but blunt. It is what it is. I can't change that any more than you can.

    I hate nothing but the fact that this could have been prevented, but wasn't. That is what I hate.

    Jump back Jack, we all have different perceptions.

  • Jack Flash Dec 11, 2009

    "Don't judge me for being extra careful with myself and mine."
    I'm not. I'm judging you because you're presumptuous about the amount of care someone else had for her children, as if "care" is what this was about. You can't make a left off Pettigrew at this intersection without being ON the tracks, yet it's as simple as the letter of the law to you, and a woman's two dead children are therefore something deserving -- IN YOUR OWN WORDS -- "little sympathy."

    "Don't hate those that are careful, hate it that there are those that are not."
    It's appropriate that "hate" is even an option for you. When you claim you have "little sympathy," repeat: "LITTLE SYMPATHY" (your own words), the issue is YOUR hate, not the person who calls you on YOUR hate. To the extent that I "hate," I'd say I "hate" those who are evil toward someone who makes a mistake and completely devoid of compassion. You think it's because you're careful? Why not try being careful with your words for once?

  • wildcat Dec 11, 2009

    I cannot figure out for the life of me why the mother chose to stop right on the tracks and not obey the blinking lights. Apparently, she was not thinking of her children. This was very tragic. My condolences to the family.

  • familyfour Dec 11, 2009

    mpheels, wellsaid.

    Preventatives measures are always best. Once you are IN the bad situation, getting out is the hard part. Not getting in the is much easier!

  • mpheels Dec 11, 2009

    It seems a lot of people here have never found themselves in a critical life/death situation. 36 seconds is a very short period of time. Police, firefighters, and other first responders go through a lot of training to be able to make critical decisions in such short periods of time. While some people are level headed and good in a crisis by nature, most are not. It's really easy to say get the kids out and run, but most people would panic is this situation and wouldn't necessarily see things that clearly. Of course, this all comes back to the point so many have made already - we all need to pay attention to our surroundings and take any/all reasonable measures to prevent critical situations.

  • familyfour Dec 11, 2009

    According to some people on here she should have told them to stay buckled up as a train barrels down on them hopeing they would have survived.SME2

    It that is what you got out of my posts, then fine.

    And no, I would have never been in that situation. I have lived in "railroad" towns all my life.

    I know what a train can do. Not going to get in their way....ever....I DO NOT PARK/STOP/SIT/WAIT ON TRAIN TRACKS....train or no train coming. (It's that simple!)

    THEY make a don't follow too closely rule for a reason. I suppose it is so congested up there where y'all are with all those people, all ya know how to do is what the one in front of ya does? Is that it?

    Don't hate me for loving myself, and being careful.

    Don't judge me because I AM UNWILLING to be that careless.

    I am not better than anyone, but I do take my responsibilities of myself and my children very seriously, and take pride in knowing that I go the distance.....and am as careful as I can be in every situation.

  • familyfour Dec 11, 2009

    Agree with jackflash or not....

    The point is many of us would never have been in that situation because we wouldn't have stopped on tracks.

    We all know what could have been done to prevent this, sadly, none of those measures were taken, and this is the result.

    Don't hate those that are careful, hate it that there are those that are not.

    I agree with buckwheat.....nothing is worth risking arrival over losing my life......

    Like I said before, don't judge me because the obvious is there for all to see. Tragic? Yes. Horrid? Yes. PREVENTABLE? YES!!!!

    Say what you will about me, but the truth hurts, and there it is.

  • buckwheat_jegc Dec 11, 2009

    Light? Waiting for WHAT light? THERE ARE NO LIGHTS at that intersection. There is just a stop sign coming up off the tracks, and one turning from the right to go down the tracks. The nearest traffic light is more than a block away in each direction, which makes the whole thing senseless! Where do I have to get to in such a hurry that I have to pull up on the bumper of someone to get there? (No where!) I get caught by that train gate all the time and I simply go down Angier Avenue if I don't feel like waiting, and take a different route. People need to get rid of the "me first" and "i'm in a hurry" mentalities and THINK about the things that matters most and the consequences of their actions. I've been through there twice this morning and will go through about four more times before the day is through. What I think is angering people is the senseless death of children that could have been prevented.