LONGVIEW, WA – Three people were killed and a fourth was critically injured when a shuttle van drove through a private railroad crossing in Longview, WA and into an oncoming BNSF freight train on Wednesday, March 23, 2011.
Two railroad workers were killed and a third was critically injured in the accident. The shuttle van driver was also killed in the accident.
Longview is located in Cowlitz County, Washington in the southwestern part of the state on the border with Oregon and about 128 miles southwest of Seattle.
The railroad workers had just finished their shift when the fatal accident occurred. The shuttle van was transporting the crew members to a hotel in Vancouver, WA where they could get some sleep. They were just leaving the rail yard at the time of the accident.
The van was hurled into a ditch after the collision. The private rail crossing had a stop sign and warning signs but no crossing arms. Witnesses say that they heard the train whistle blow just before the crash.
The 106 car train did not derail in the accident. It was carrying grain from Crookston, MN to Seattle, WA.
There were three tracks at the crossing and there was a parked train on one of the tracks. Investigators think that the parked train may have obstructed the view of the oncoming train but the exact cause of the accident is still under investigation.
BNSF Railroad is investigating how the accident happened and why the shuttle van driver attempted to cross the tracks and into an oncoming train. Both the van and the train had “black boxes” (data recording devices) which investigators hope will provide some answers. Investigators also plan to see if any surveillance tapes exist that may have captured moments before the accident.
The two BNSF railroad workers who were killed were identified as 28 year-old Chris Loehr, a conductor trainee from Vancouver, WA and 58 year-old Tom Kenny, from Seattle, WA, an engineer who worked for BNSF for the last 22 years. The shuttle van driver who was also killed was identified as 60 year-old Steven Sebastian, from Castle Rock, WA, who drove the van for Coach America.
The other BSNF railroad worker who was seriously injured in the accident was identified as 52 year-old Dwight Hauck, from Auburn, WA. He was taken to a hospital in Portland.
BNSF spokesman, Gus Melonas commented in a KOMO Channel 4 News report:
It’s just a terrible situation. We feel so deeply for everybody involved … It’s the saddest day that you could imagine.
Ten trains were put on hold after the accident, including trains from Amtrak and BNSF.
Published by FELA lawyer Gordon, Elias & Seely, LLP