HAHIRA- At approximately 8:36 a.m. on Monday morning a fatal accident occurred in downtown Hahira at the Lawson Street crossing. C & S Rail Services, LLC contractor Dexter Brown, 48, from Barnwell, S.C. allegedly failed to yield the right of way to the train, resulting in being struck by a Norfolk Southern train.
“It was a sad situation and an unfortunate accident. No one really knows what happened or what was going through the guy’s head or what he was thinking, and you know he just didn’t pay attention to the train that was coming through there,” said Bruce Cain, Hahira Mayor.
There are no crossing bars or signalized safety procedures at the Lawson Street crossing, however, there are stop signs there.
“The way that I am hearing it is we don’t know if he stopped and looked or if he just eased on across. He was a sub-contractor for the railroad and we just don’t know why,” Cain said.
All the workers were right there in that neighborhood with all their machines stretched out on the side track, the mayor said, and that was something he and the council noticed last Friday during their city retreat.
“We kind of started to notice that when they would go to their trucks a train would come through, so they knew when the trains were coming through,” Cain said.
The trains come through Hahira pretty much on the same schedule daily and Mayor Cain says they have kind of been off their schedule for the last week or so because of all the work that has been going on, on the tracks.
“I wish we knew what happened, but we just don’t. The only people that knows would be the victim and the train engineer of the locomotive; he, from what I understand did see him start to come across and he did get on his horn and started blowing it more to warn him,” Cain said.
A lot of crossing repairs have been taking place between Hahira and Valdosta; they have also been doing some further North and maybe further South than Valdosta, according to Cain.
“The trains are on a schedule, and most of the time they know when one is coming in and they kind of keep an eye on that to make sure the tracks are clear when a train comes through, to ensure they have all their equipment away from the tracks,” Cain said.
In initial reports from Georgia State Patrolman – TFC3, C. Cothron, he said, from what he gathered from witnesses the driver was just slowly crossing over to the other side and was getting ready to make a left turn right alongside the tracks.
“The driver was driving a dump truck and he was pulling a trailer with a backhoe on it, so he had to go easy across the tracks because of that,” Cain said.
When asked if the speed of the locomotive was a factor, Mayor Cain said he believed the speed of the trains going through Hahira is a factor.
“I have been hearing a lot of communication about how fast those trains go through here and this of course is unfortunate because this is one of the areas where they are probably moving along about 60 mph,” Cain said.
Georgia Department of Transportation, Georgia State Patrol, C & S investigators and Norfolk Southern Railroad are the agencies investigating the crash, according to Lt. Shannon Kingston, Hahira Police Department.
The controls from the train involved in the fatal accident on Monday, show that the engineer was going 59 mph and it took about close to a mile before the train engineer was able to come to a stop according to Mayor Cain.
“I would like to talk to the Georgia Department of Transportation to see if there is anything we can do about getting them to slow down some coming through town,” Cain said. “Even though we can slow them down some, a train is not going to be able to stop, not like a car could because of the load that they have behind them.”
The topic of closing the railroad crossing came up in the city council work session last week after Norfolk Southern offered the city of Hahira $40,000 if they willingly close the Lawson Street railroad crossing.
However, if they were to vote against the request to close that property then Norfolk Southern plans to go forward with the closure and the money would no longer be an option. This is a discussion that the city of Hahira has been having with Norfolk Southern for quite some time.
“I don’t know if it will be a factor or not. The council members of course hate that anything like this has happened, but they still have to look at the community views,” Cain said.
It is going to be a situation where you have some of the community not wanting to close the crossing and then you have some that says that it is a dangerous crossing and they would like to see it closed, he said.
“The crossing is a little bit elevated, but it is not as raised as the crossing North of Lawson, which is Stanfill Street and that one is really elevated but it does have the gates and all the safety precautions there for that one,” Cain said.
All the crossings in town have safety precautions in place except for the crossing at Lawson Street. According to the mayor, a lot of people don’t take the Lawson Street crossing because they feel it is just too dangerous.
“It was mentioned at the work session that there was a fatality there back in 1996 and then there was another incident with minor injuries in 2008, and of course now a fatality this year. I can’t really say how the council will weigh the situation,” Cain said.
Hahira is very community minded and the mayor says he is aware that it is impossible to talk to every individual, but the council members can talk to people in their districts and get a feel for what they want concerning this railroad crossing and any other concerns the community may have. Mayor Cain said he even gets a lot phone calls about concerns in the community.
Overall the mayor feels he and the council do their best to get a good feeling of what the community wants.
“We understand the concerns of the possibility of closing the crossing or leaving it open, but the council will be doing everything they think is possible for the safety of the citizens of Hahira.,” Cain said.