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Men jump off rig moments before train runs into truck

August 26, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - With a freight train bearing down on them, three men trying to move a truck that was stuck on railroad tracks in Shepherdstown Monday evening jumped off just before the train broadsided the rig.

The collision happened just after 5 p.m. at the High Street railroad crossing, a couple of blocks from the Shepherd College campus.

Nobody was injured.

The truck got stuck when St. Thomas, Pa.-based Charles E. Brake Co. Inc. truck driver Tim Timmons, 39, tried to drive over the crossing but fell victim to steep grades on both sides of the track. He was hauling a flatbed trailer loaded with a trencher - a piece of heavy construction equipment used to dig trenches.

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Essentially the flatbed trailer became stuck on the tracks in a teeter-totter position, said Leon Catrow, chief of the Shepherdstown Volunteer Fire Department.

Meanwhile, Brake Co. employee Jeff Powell was on the flatbed, trying to unchain the trencher and move it so the weight would shift and the truck could move.

A third Brake Co. employee, who was working on a parking lot construction project on the college campus, came over to help.

Rounding a turn and heading toward Maryland was a Norfolk Southern train, estimated to be traveling at 20 to 25 mph.

When Powell saw the train, he jumped off and ran through some nearby tall weeds.

Timmons' eyes were caught by a bright orange shirt running away. He immediately recognized the shirt as belonging to a fellow Brake employee and knew something was wrong. When he looked up, he saw the train.

"I thought, 'It's time for me to bail out of here.' And then it hit," Timmons said.

Catrow said the three men were "very lucky" to escape. Normally trains are going about 50 mph on that stretch of tracks, he said.

The impact pushed the truck and trailer off the tracks, and the trencher fell off the trailer. All of it came to rest sideways in weeds and cinders that parallel the tracks.

A fluid was leaking from the trencher. Timmons said he was hauling it to a nearby wastewater treatment plant in preparation for new sewer lines that are to be installed in the east side of Shepherdstown.

Underneath the trencher lay an X-shaped white railroad crossing sign, bent. Along the street, also twisted, lay a torn-off red and white railroad crossing bar.

Several people wandered over to the wreck and snapped pictures.

The train's engineer was able to stop almost immediately after hitting the rig. Hours after the collision the train was still stopped on the tracks. Because only about 10 cars were attached to the engine, neither the German Street nor Princess Street crossing was blocked.

Catrow said railroad officials could not move the train because the tracks were damaged and the train needed to be inspected.

Railroad officials on the scene refused to comment.

As he drank from a plastic cup of water offered to him by a firefighter, Timmons tried to joke about the incident. Otherwise, he said, he'd be crying.

He and his wife have three daughters.

"I called her and told her I was going to be late," Timmons said, trying to lighten the mood as he peered at the mangled truck and quickly downed the lukewarm water.

"If you know of anybody looking for a used truck. ..."

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