College Student Who Avoided Driving After Recent Car Crash Survives Train Wreck


When it was time to visit her father for spring break, Alexis Pearce decided to take the train rather than driving.

Three weeks earlier, the 22-year-old Duke University student had been in a serious car accident and she didn’t want to take any chances. But her choice turned out to be an unnerving one: The Amtrak train she was riding in Monday hit a tractor-trailer that got stuck on railroad tracks in the North Carolina town of Halifax, injuring the conductor and at least 54 of the 212 passengers aboard the train. Pearce, fortunately, was not hurt.

“I just feel very blessed,” Pearce said, adding that one man in her car was taken away on a gurney after his seat came loose in the crash and twisted.

Susan Glucksman of Connecticut, who was riding in the first passenger car on the northbound train, said she was thrown from her seat on impact, but was not injured.

“It was very fast, very scary,” Glucksman said.

Monday’s was the third serious train crash in less than two months. Two crashes in New York and California in February killed a total of seven people and injured 30.

The oversized flatbed trailer involved in Monday’s crash was transporting a modular building wrapped in blue plastic and loaded with electrical equipment – what troopers described as “an electrical distribution center” – from Clayton, North Carolina, to New Jersey, said Lt. Jeff Gordon, a spokesman for the North Carolina State Highway Patrol.

One of the troopers escorting the truck to the Virginia border was trying to help the driver negotiate a difficult left-hand turn across the tracks onto a two-lane highway, Gordon said. But the 164-foot tractor-trailer combination, longer than half a football field, couldn’t navigate it, he said.

Gordon said the truck driver had to reposition his trailer and back up to attempt the turn a second time by making a wider swing through the intersection. During the five minutes or so the trooper and driver spent attempting to get the truck turned and off the tracks, there was no indication of an approaching train, Gordon said.

The northbound train originated in Charlotte, North Carolina, and was bound for New York. As it approached, it set off warning flashers and the crossing arms came down as the truck was still straddling the tracks, Gordon said. The train hit shortly afterward, about noon, he said. He said the truck was unable to back off the tracks completely before the train hit because traffic had backed up on the road behind him.

“I saw him jump out of the truck when he knew he couldn’t beat it. … I heard the train noise and thought, ‘Oh, my God, it’s going to happen,’” said eyewitness Leslie Cipriani, who used her cellphone to shoot video of the crash, which happened just feet away from homes and a Baptist church.

The truck driver, identified as John Devin Black of Claremont, was not injured. Authorities identified the train conductor as Keenan Talley of Raleigh. He was among the injured, but details of his condition were not known.

Gordon said the tractor-trailer is owned by a company by the name of Guy M. Turner Inc. of Greensboro. A statement on the company’s website, later removed, said the company’s thoughts and prayers were with anyone who was injured. The company did not respond to an email requesting comment.

Hours after the crash, about a dozen train passengers who were uninjured or treated at a hospital for minor injuries and then released, began boarding a bus that was going to take them to Richmond, Virginia, where they had the option of getting on another train.

They declined to discuss the crash, but wanted to express their gratitude.

“We’re just thankful that we’re still alive. It could have been really worse. God was really with us,” said Lisa Carson, 50, of Philadelphia.

Steve Ditmeyer, a former Federal Railroad Administration official who teaches railway management at Michigan State University, looked at the crossing on Google Maps and said the curve of the railroad heading toward the intersection would have made it hard for the engineer to see up ahead, or for the truck driver to see down the track. Furthermore, the tracks don’t cross the road at a 90-degree angle.

“This is also known as a bad geometry crossing,” he said.

Associated Press

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