St. George, SC- A local volunteer firefighter died Sunday afternoon, when he was struck by a fast-moving train at a railroad crossing. How common are accidents
The man has been identified as 26 year-old Richard Willis who leaves behind his wife, Brandi Willis, and two children.
According to St. George Police Chief, Anthony Britt, Willis was crossing the tracks in his pickup truck at Anne Street and Railroad Ave. when the train struck him at 4:48 p.m. Britt said that Willis’s truck was dragged 100 feet, according to ABC News 4 in Charleston.
Willis, who Britt said was a volunteer for the Grove Fire Department, was pronounced dead on the scene.
The Associated Press reported that this particular crossing had numerous warning signs, but no lights or mechanical arms blocking the crossing.
Railroad crossing accidents are more common than people realize.
According to the Federal Railroad Safety Administration, there are an estimated 3,000 accidents involving trains and automobiles on an annual basis. A person is involved in a train collision almost every two hours, resulting in 12 accidents a day.
In 2011, there were 2,054 collisions at private railroad crossings, 271 of those resulted in fatalities while 1,026 resulted in personal injury with the majority of these accidents occurring in daylight hours. Fatalities at crossings have declined dramatically over the past 3 decades, but it is still a major concern especially at crossing where there are only warning signs.
While a majority of these train crossing collisions, 94 percent, are caused by driver error, there a many incidents where warning signals fail to go off. This may be the case in a fatal train accident which took the lives of four veterans, who managed to make it through the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, only to lose their lives at home.
Last November, just four days after Veteran’s Day, five veterans and family members were killed and 16 injured when the parade float they were traveling on was stopped on a set of tracks in Midland, Texas, and was struck by an oncoming train.
This particular crossing had electric arms and flashing warning lights, and there are conflicting reports of whether these warning signals actually went off. One witness said they noticed the crossing arms had come down in the middle of the flat bed, but other witnesses said there was no indication that a train was approaching, some said they didn’t even hear a horn warning of the train’s approach; it takes up to a mile for a train to stop once the brakes are applied, that’s the equivalent of 18 football fields.
The National Traffic Safety Administration launched an investigation to determine the cause of this accident. A spokesman for Union Pacific said the crossings red-flashing lights and crossing arms were working at the time of the collision. They also stated that the train conductor also sounded off the horn prior to the collision and other workers can confirm his account.
This particular crossing has been the scene of 10 accidents since 1979, though this recent accident was the only one where people were killed.
If a subsequent investigation reveals that the warning signs were not working properly, the rail company in charge of maintaining the safety equipment could be liable for any fatalities and personal injuries.