OTTUMWA — Monday night by the railroad tracks, a police officer, railroad employees and firefighters were shaking their heads while a flatbed tow-truck hoisted the remains of a smashed pickup.
"When are people going to learn not to go around the arms?" asked Assistant Chief Mike Craff of the Ottumwa Fire Department.
Even two hours after the accident, those protective barrier arms were still down, lights flashing, at the railroad crossing on Vine Street, between Hayne and Main streets, and within view of Ottumwa High School. Emergency responders said the incident occurred around 8:30 p.m. Monday.
A small pickup truck went around the arms, which were already down, the driver acknowledged to investigators. A railway employee at the scene said the vehicle was clearly past the arms at the time of the accident. But from what the firefighters were able to put together, the driver wasn't purposely trying to beat a train she saw coming. She saw a stopped train, just sitting on the railroad tracks.
"I can’t talk to that because, at this point, the investigation is ongoing," said Amy McBeth, a spokeswoman with BNSF Railway. "I can tell you the crossing was protected by crossing gates and lights, and those were working. It’s extremely dangerous to go around an activated crossing gate."
The vehicle's driver only saw the parked train and the activated gates. That may have lead the motorist to believe it was that train, at least 50 feet away, causing the arms, lights and bells to activate. But it was not the one she saw that caused the signal to activate. It was another train, doing 30 mph straight for the intersection. It was not visible due to the parked train.
The pickup driver went around the arms and drove straight into the side of a moving train.