CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 4 KIRK LITTLE
834th Aviation Support Battalion
While working as an assistant trainmaster for the Union Pacific Railroad, my job as a manager required me to be on call should any problems arise in my area, which ran from Kansas City, Missouri, to McAlester, Oklahoma. On a warm mid-summer evening, I got a call that would remind me just how precious life is and how we should never take it for granted.
It was about 6:30 p.m. when the call came in notifying me of a motorcycle accident at a railroad crossing on a country road outside a small town in eastern Oklahoma. The motorcyclist was apparently traveling at a high rate of speed on his sport bike when he failed to negotiate a turn and struck the railroad embankment. He was thrown from his bike and landed on the tracks.
Shortly after the accident, a train came around the curve. When the engineer saw the body lying across the tracks, he immediately applied the emergency brakes. However, it took more than a half-mile for the 8,500-foot train to finally come to a stop. When it did, it was on top of the rider’s body.
When I arrived at the scene, a crowd had gathered as local law enforcement officials conducted their investigation. I walked slowly along both sides of the train, looking underneath the rail cars and along the tracks for additional items that may help solve the cause of the accident. During my investigation, I came across several items of clothing and dismembered body parts that were scattered upon impact.
According to the highway patrol and other officials investigating the accident, the motorcyclist had been killed when he struck the embankment. The officers pointed out that the impact was so intense that it knocked the shoes off the rider’s feet. His body was then launched onto the railroad tracks, leaving him straddling the rails.
When a train is involved in an accident, it must remain in the stopped position until the scene has been investigated. The local authorities then talk with the manager from the railroad before giving approval for the train to be moved. Once I got the approval, the crew moved the train to the first available siding and was released from duty. They would later go through several days of counseling, a normal practice when involved in a crossing accident or other traumatic experience.
It was well past midnight when we finally finished cleaning up the accident scene. After everyone else left, I remained behind to ensure that several other trains could pass without any issues and that there had been no damage to the rails. Once I was satisfied everything was safe, I decided to call it a night.
As I walked to my truck, which was parked about a quarter-mile away, a pickup carrying a young family pulled up alongside me. The man driving the truck asked me if I knew what had happened. I told him there had been a crossing accident involving a motorcycle. He then asked for details. The man told me the accident victim was his brother, and he’d only owned the bike for a few days. He’d been going through some rough times with his family and had been drinking earlier in the day.
I didn’t give him the details of the accident, telling him he’d need to contact the local authorities for that information. The man thanked me for my help and apologized for the trouble. He then drove off down the quiet country road that was congested with onlookers earlier in the day. As I continued to my truck, I looked up at the summer moon and said a prayer for the dead man’s family. I couldn’t help but think about how the choices we make have an impact on more than just our own lives.