Written by Patty Decker Tuesday, 09 February 2010 19:26
Christian Petersen, 26, of Hillsboro, driving a 2006 Dodge Stratus, was about one mile south on Remington Road when, he said, the car hit a mud puddle close to the railroad crossing.
“When I turned the windshield wipers on, the mud started smearing,” he said.
In addition to not being able to see clearly, Petersen said he didn’t hear a train coming. He looked down the tracks to the east and seconds after turning on the windshield wipers, he saw the train. Petersen said he tried to stop the car, but the recent snow and rain turned the dirt and gravel surface into mud causing the vehicle to slide almost 40 feet.
According to Marion County Sheriff Duane McCarty, when Peterson hit the brake, the car started sliding sideways to the right with the rear tires still on the skid marks.
“The left front side of the car struck parts of the train,” McCarty said. “Train engines protrude out, so the train hit the car, then a pause, then another part of the train hit the car, then a pause.”
It was during the second to the last pause that Petersen and the other passengers exited the car. The front passenger was Aurora Salamone, 20, of Tampa. Passengers in the back were James Murray, 23, and Alex Altum, 3, in a child safety seat, both of Kyle, Texas.
Petersen was still shaking almost 30 minutes after the accident.
“I thought I was dead,” he said. “The train was grinding the car (and us) into it, and I just thank God everyone got out.”
He said he was grateful that someone was driving behind them when the car collided with the train.
“I thank the Lord someone saw us and called 911,” Petersen said.
Petersen told McCarty he was driving about 35 mph before the accident.
Salamone said the mother of the 3-year-old, Brandi Brunson, and Murray (her fiance) were moving back to the area and had begun house hunting. Brunson, who was at the scene, said she had lived in Marion before, but moved away, and now was returning with her son and fiance’.
Petersen and Salamone were helping their Texas friends by showing them houses available.
Alan Blasdel, senior claim representative with BSNF Railroad, also spoke with McCarty to find out what had happened.
The driver and passengers in the Dodge, though, weren’t the only ones shaken up by the accident. McCarty said the train conductor, Kelly Curtis, 34, of Wichita, did everything he could to stop the train as quickly as possible.
“The BNSF (Burlington Northern Sante Fe) train conductor said he was going about 40 mph when he saw the car and knew it was going to hit the train,” McCarty said.
At the point when the conductor knew the collision was inevitable, he threw a switch, similar to the way emergency brakes would work.
“None of the boxcars were loaded, so the train was able to stop quicker,”McCarty said.
BNSF representatives will conduct their own investigation.
McCarty said he has not determined if any citations will be issued.
Emergency medical personnel from Hillsboro and Marion were at the scene, but no one from the accident was transported by amubulance.
Marvin Peterson, Kansas Wildlife & Parks Department near Marion, was also at the scene. Peterson said he heard the call, and because he was close by, went to offer help, if it became necessary.
McCarty also expessed gratitude that everyone walked away from this accident.
“A half a second difference and this would not have had the same ending,” he said.