Church Hill man, woman escape serious injury in train/hearse collision

Jeff Bobo • Jan 10, 2007 at 10:12 AM

A 20-year-old Church Hill man and his 17-year-old female passenger escaped serious injury Wednesday afternoon when he turned the decommissioned hearse into the path of a train on Belmont Avenue in Mount Carmel. Jeff Bobo photo.


MOUNT CARMEL - If you're going to pull out in front of a train, you'd better bring a hearse.

That's what a Church Hill man did Wednesday in Mount Carmel, but fortunately no one was seriously injured, although the hearse was probably totaled.

Technically it was a former hearse.

According to Mount Carmel Police Department Officer Bobby Moffitt, a 1984 Cadillac Deville hearse driven by Nathaniel Gilliam, 20, 322 Linsey St., Church Hill, was attempting to turn south from Beech Street onto Belmont Avenue about 4 p.m. when it turned into the path of an eastbound Southern Railroad locomotive. Beech Street runs adjacent to the north side of the railroad tracks, and as the hearse turned onto Belmont Avenue it was struck by the train at the rear of the passenger side.

The hearse then spun around and came to rest beside the railroad tracks. Gilliam and his 17-year-old female passenger allegedly weren't wearing seat belts, and they both struck their heads on the windshield, causing the glass to spider web.

Gilliam was transported to Holston Valley Medical Center for treatment of a laceration on his head and back pain. His passenger didn't appear to be hurt.

Wednesday's accident was identical to a train vs. vehicle collision at that same location in April 2005 which took the life of a Kingsport woman.

Moffitt said Gilliam told him he never saw or heard the crossing lights or the train. Moffitt said the accident could have been much more serious if the train had been at normal speed.

"The lights were flashing, and the conductor and engineer saw what was going to happen and went into emergency mode, which basically locks the train down," Moffitt said. "The train stopped very quick, and due to the slow speed of the train and the point of impact at the rear of the vehicle the injuries weren't serious."

The train continued on about 200 yards past the Belmont Avenue intersection before coming to a stop.

Moffitt noted that he's never seen an accident involving a passenger vehicle and a train with only minor injuries.

"They were very lucky," he said.

Moffitt said a third witness independent of the railroad or accident victims confirmed that the railroad crossing signals were activated.

Gilliam was cited for failure to obey a railroad crossing signal and a seat belt violation. The passenger was cited for a seat belt violation.

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