Two killed, several injured when freight train collides with small bus
Our Missouri personal injury lawyers know that auto accidents involving trains often result in serious, life-threatening injuries to the occupants of other motor vehicles. According to Operation Lifesaver, a non-profit organization that promotes rail safety, a locomotive can weigh anywhere between 200 and 6,000 tons, which means the weight ratio of a car to a train is similar to the weight ratio of a soda can to a car. And because of its size and weight, a freight train can't just stop suddenly when an obstacle appears on the tracks. At 55 miles per hour, an average locomotive requires more than a mile to come to a complete stop.
Recently, a Pennsylvania bus driver was charged with multiple criminal offenses after his bus was involved in a fatal collision with a freight train. According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 59 year-old Frank Schaffner currently faces numerous charges in connection with the crash, including two counts of homicide by vehicle and involuntary manslaughter, ten counts of assault by vehicle, one count of reckless endangerment, and one count of failure to stop at a railroad crossing,
On the morning of April 26, investigators say Schaffner was behind the wheel of a twelve-seat bus carrying elderly and special-needs passengers. A surveillance video reportedly shows Schaffner failing to slow as he approached a railroad crossing, even as an oncoming train sounded its horn and bus passengers called out warnings. Ultimately, the train struck the bus, pushing it 20 feet and causing it to spin 180 degrees into a ravine, reports the Ellwood City Ledger. Two passengers, 91 year-old Claudette Lee Miller and 88 year-old John Burkett, died as a result of their injuries.
Pennsylvania law requires buses and other commercial vehicles that transport passengers to stop between 15 and 50 feet away from railroad tracks. Schaffner's attorney, Michael Pawk, said foggy conditions and a lack of crossing signals (like lights and gates) contributed to the crash, but police say the fog was light when the collision occurred. Investigators allegedly found pills in two prescription bottles belonging to Schaffner that did not match the labels, but it's presently unclear what toxicology reports revealed.
Here in Missouri, there are about 4,000 miles of main track, 2,500 miles of yard track, and an estimated 7,000 public and private railroad crossings. Under Missouri law (Section 304.035 RSMo), drivers are required to stop no less than 15 feet and no more than 50 feet away from crossings under the following conditions:
• When a "clearly visible electric or mechanical signal device" indicates a train is coming
• When a crossing gate has lowered or a human flagman warns of an oncoming train
• When a train is "visible and is in hazardous proximity" to the crossing
• When any "traffic sign, device...act, rule, regulation or statute requires a vehicle" to stop at the crossing
• When a driver is operating a school bus or other motor vehicle transporting passengers for hire
• When a driver is operating a vehicle transporting high explosives or poisonous or compressed inflammable gases
• When a driver is operating a vehicle that hauls inflammable or corrosive liquids in bulk (whether the vehicle is loaded or empty)