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Driver safety warnings follow second train crash in a month

Posted December 23, 2009

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— As members of the state Highway Patrol and DOT continued their investigation into a fatal train-car collision Wednesday, the agencies issued a reminder to drivers that they share the responsibility for railroad crossing safety.

Investigators said Erin Brett Lindsay-Calkins, 26, and her 5-year-old son, Nicholas Lindsay, died after Lindsay-Calkins drove under the crossing arms. Her Toyota was on the tracks when the train hit.

Lindsay-Calkins worked at Duke's Center for Aging until she left to go on maternity leave.  Nicholas went to school at Central Elementary in Hillsborough.

Lindsay-Calkins' baby, 4-month-old Aven Brooke Lindsay-Calkins, survived the wreck. She was transported to UNC Hospitals where she was listed in good condition Wednesday afternoon.

Troopers said all three occupants of the car were properly restrained.

DOT spokesman Paul Worley said Wednesday that the crossing, at Southern Drive and Mount Willing Road in Efland, is similar to the site of a Durham crash that happened Dec. 10. In that wreck, brothers Calvin Brandon, 9, and Hassan Bingham, 6, died when their mother's Ford Explorer was hit by a train.

Despite the recent tragedies and posted warnings, not all drivers are exercising caution, observers say.

Stephen Stiebel works across from the tracks in Efland. “I see cars and trucks try to beat it,” he said. He said he's even seen trucks run into the arms and break them.

"I can't believe it. I'm absolutely appalled. It's just amazing," he said.

"People just don't realize that paying attention at a crossing is a matter of life or death,” said Carol Steckbeck. She represents Operation Lifesaver, a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing deaths and injuries on railways.

Steckbeck said North Carolina ranks among the top 15 states for train collisions because of the number of railroad tracks in the state.

Her key piece of advice: “If you can't have enough room in front of you to clear the crossing safely, don't even start across."

She offered these additional safety tips:

  • Always expect a train at any crossing – avoid all distractions.
  • Do not get trapped on the tracks: only proceed through the crossing if you are sure you can completely clear the crossing without stopping.
  • Because of their size and weight, trains can't stop quickly – they can take up to a mile or more to stop.
  • If you see a train approaching, stop. It is actually closer and moving faster than what appears. At multiple track crossings, watch out for a second train approaching from either direction.
  • If your vehicle stalls on the tracks, get out immediately and move quickly away from the tracks. Look for an emergency number at the crossing to notify authorities to stop any on-coming trains, or call 911 or your local law enforcement agency for assistance.

Those who live and work near the crossing in Efland said they have often reported problems with the signals not working.

A spokeswoman for Norfolk Southern said that the crossing signals were in working order at the time of the crash. Susan Teerpay said the railroad company is not aware of any issues at that intersection.

DOT spokesman Paul Worley said the state was not aware of any problems with the crossing either. The last wreck at that crossing was in January 1980.

29 Comments

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  • JustOneGodLessThanU Dec 28, 2009

    burnhace, you couldn't be more wrong. This sits is NOT a real problem and it could NOT just happen to anyone. I know this intersection.

    And, you just watered down the driver's responsibility further with your admission, "if there are children in the car, there may not be enough attention to go around..."

    If a person cannot drive safely and be FULLY AWARE, then they should not drive. Do you really disagree?

  • TomLynda Dec 24, 2009

    Titus Pullo:

    You hit the nail on the head. Nobody seems to want to take the blame for their own actions. It's always somebody elses fault.

    Don't want a train to hit you? Simple. Don't stop on the tracks, and don't try to beat the train. They win the majority of the time. And no, it's not a "win", it's always a tragedy, but a tragedy that is virtually always the drivers fault. Period.

  • jhalaw Dec 24, 2009

    Responding to these crashes by slowing down the trains, would send the wrong message, that the fault is on the railroad's part and the problem has been "fixed." The fault here, and the fix, is solely on the driver's side (some drivers), and that needs to be the message.

  • uncw05 Dec 24, 2009

    JustaCitizen - the reason they look into it despite seeing fault in the driver is, that no matter who's fault it is, the government sends emergency personnel and clean up crews, the government deals with re-routing traffic. No matter who causes it, it turns into an issue for them, so it's in their interest to prevent it when possible. It becomes economics, if they can find something to do to make every crossing safer, and it's not more expensive than dealing with wrecks at a few crossings, they will do it. If not, they won't, because current safety mechanisms really do keep us safe from everything but ourselves.

  • delilahk2000 Dec 24, 2009

    WAY TO GO GOLO YOU PICK AND CHOOSE WHO YOU WILL PRINT AGAIN. MY COMMENT WAS TAME COMPAIRED TO SOME ON HERE. THE ONES THAT SAID HUMAN ERROR AND NOT THE TRAINS FAULT.

  • Titus Pullo Dec 24, 2009

    "People just need to learn to take responsiblity for their actions or inactions,"

    Are you out of your mind? Of course nobody is ever responsible for their actions. It is always the other guy's fault!

  • QTC Dec 24, 2009

    It is reported that the woman crashed through the wooden barrier arm, which had been lowered. Few people would risk damage to their vehicles simply to beat a train. Hence, I suspect this is another case of driver distraction. (Perhaps she had eyes off the road while dealing with one of the children.)

    I suggest an addition to the driving examination written test:

    Q. Which of the following is an example of when a driver should pull over safely and stop?
    (1) A passenger/child needs attention. (2) It is necessary to consult a map, or consult/re-program a GPS unit. (3) The driver receives (or needs to originate) a cell phone call. (4) The driver feels the need to respond to a text message. (5) A stinging insect is buzzing around inside the passenger compartment. (6) A lighted cigarette has fallen just out of reach of the driver. (7) A beverage has spilled. (8) Driver is feeling drowsey. (9) Any of the above.

  • chfdcpt Dec 23, 2009

    I am very familiar with that intersection, and like the original report said, the last accident at that crossing wast 1980, 29 years ago.

    I forgot how many times I have seen folks drive around the gates, traffic backed up and folks stopping on the tracks with no room to get out, racing the train to the crossing. Sooner or later, the law of averages catches up with you.

  • r u crazy too Dec 23, 2009

    It's just my personal observation, but most folks that I see running gates are just trying to beat the train. It's not that they don't see the train, they're trying to beat the train. I'm a train engineer and I see cars racing me EVERY day.

  • kikinc Dec 23, 2009

    ncgrlfrnd-right on with that post! I can only imagine the mental ramifications of watching that. That poor engineer will never be the same. The lesson we can all learn is to SLOW DOWN!

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