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Pa. man injured when train slams into milk truck

Keith E. Lehman, 42, was in critical condition with severe head injuries

Keith E. Lehman, 42, was in critical condition with severe head injuries

November 02, 2005|by DON AINES

GREENCASTLE, PA.

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

A Greencastle man was flown to Altoona (Pa.) Hospital after the milk truck he was driving Tuesday morning was struck by a freight train at a railroad crossing on Milnor Road in Antrim Township, according to police and fire officials.

The accident spilled the truck's contents and diesel fuel from the locomotive, officials said.

Keith E. Lehman, 42, of 12266 Grant Shook Road, was flown to Altoona by a medevac helicopter based in Hagerstown, according to 1st Lt. Dave Hann of the Greencastle Rescue Hose Co. A hospital spokeswoman said Lehman was in critical condition Tuesday afternoon.

Pennsylvania State Police said Lehman suffered severe head injuries.

Lehman was driving a tractor-trailer belonging to Barrick & Stewart Milk Hauling of Newville, Pa., east on Milnor Road at approximately 10:23 a.m. when the trailer of the truck was hit on the left side by a southbound Norfolk Southern train hauling 50 cars loaded with automobiles and truck trailers, Hann said.

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"He was going 50 mph. He got it slowed down to 37 mph on impact," Pennsylvania State Trooper Jeffrey Sarver said of the train's engineer.

He said the train's crew hit the brakes and blew its whistle well before impact.

"It appears he might have been using the phone," Sarver said of Lehman. Troopers checked the cell phone log and found Lehman had made a call at about 10:20 a.m., Sarver said.

A witness told police the truck did not stop at the tracks, but drove onto them slowly, Sarver said. The train's engineer and conductor were not hurt and Sarver said they told police that Lehman did not turn his head or look in the direction of the oncoming train.

The track is straight and level where the crash occurred, with fields on the east side and some trees along the west side.

"You couldn't see out the windows because all the windows were full of milk," one of the train crew members said of the moment of impact. The locomotive and cars stayed on the track but "it was pretty shaky," the other crewman said.

Police identified the men as conductor Michael Gildea, 50, of Souderton, Pa., and engineer Daniel Bennar, 46, of Whitehall, Pa.

The collision crumpled the center of the trailer like tin foil and pushed the truck onto the east side of the tracks a few yards south of the crossing. The rear wheel assembly of the trailer broke off and was on the west side of the tracks.

"Our biggest problem here is we have fuel from the tractor-trailer ... and also a large amount of fuel from the train itself," Hann said.

There was a strong smell of diesel in the air and Franklin County Hazmat Coordinator Gary Himes said the spill from the locomotive's tank was between 2,000 gallons and 3,000 gallons. The punctured tank could hold up to 4,400 gallons, but it was not completely full, he said.

The train moved off at about 2:30 p.m. and Norfolk Southern has a contractor that will clean up the spilled fuel along the tracks, Himes said. The wreckage of the truck was hauled off by Dave's Truck Repair of Chambersburg, Pa., which also was going to clean up the diesel that spilled from the truck.

After the crash, the train continued for about 300 yards before coming to a stop on the rural stretch of track. The crossing is marked with a sign, but has no gates or warning lights.

Police said Lehman was heading toward a nearby dairy farm to pick up milk. Himes said the trailer had about 2,400 gallons of milk on board, which spilled into an alfalfa field along the tracks.

Himes said milk can create environmental problems, killing fish if it leaks into a waterway, but no cleanup of the milk was required in this case.

Milnor Road was blocked off at U.S. 11 and Williamsport Pike while police, fire, ambulance and towing crews were on the scene.

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