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Driver escapes serious injury when train clips SUV in Johnson City

Becky Campbell • Jan 31, 2008 at 12:00 AM

JOHNSON CITY — A Johnson City woman narrowly escaped serious injury — and possibly death — Thursday afternoon when a Norfolk Southern Railway train clipped the front of her SUV after she apparently stopped at a red light too close to the tracks, according to a Johnson City Police Department supervisor.

Sgt. Scotty Carrier, a supervisor with the JCPD’s traffic crash reconstruction team, said some of the details about the crash were not available late Thursday because the report was not complete, but he confirmed the woman involved in the crash was not injured.

An eyewitness to the early afternoon wreck said the victim, whose name was not available, walked away under her own power.

Sharon Reaves pulled up behind the gray SUV stopped at the red light at Sevier Street and West State of Franklin Road about 1:35 p.m., just seconds before she heard the sound of a train.

“I didn’t notice lights flashing or hear the bells, but I heard the train,” Reaves said.

The SUV in front of Reaves was apparently past the white stop bar on the pavement, which shows drivers where to stop to keep a safe distance from the tracks.

“I backed up to give her room,” Reaves said, but the woman in front of her didn’t move. Reaves said she backed up again, giving the woman at least three car lengths, but the vehicle still didn’t move.

By then, the railroad crossing gates came down.

“The gate came down, and it bounced off the top of her car and went back up,” Reaves said.

The gate went down again, she said, this time to the rear of the woman’s SUV.

“I was thinking, ‘Back up,’ but I figured she was in shock. She was trapped between the tracks and the gate,” Reaves said.

All the events took place in a matter of seconds, according to Reaves, and then the train was in the intersection.

“It was the worst sound in the world. Then I just started seeing silver confetti flying through the air, a fender and headlights,” Reaves said.

Susan Terpay, a Norfolk Southern spokeswoman, said the train — which consisted of five locomotives and 34 railcars — was traveling from Bristol to Knoxville.

“The track speed is 35 miles per hour, but it was going much slower,” Terpay said.

“There are lights and gates at that crossing, and it is extremely important that traffic stops when those activate,” she said.

“With a train of this size, it could take a mile or mile and a half to stop if it’s going 50 miles an hour. We recommend (for traffic) to not proceed across tracks when the signal lights indicate a train is coming,” she said.

Terpay said the company recommends if someone does become trapped between crossing gates, or if your car breaks down, the most important thing is to get out of your vehicle.

Carrier said the crash is still under investigation, and the report should be completed today.

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