Five killed as car tries to beat Amtrak train at rail crossing

By Calvin Palmer

Five young people died today when the car they were traveling in was struck by an Amtrak train after it went around the arm of a crossing near Detroit.

The crash occurred around 12:30 p.m. in Canton Township, Michigan, about 20 miles west of Detroit. The car was headed north when it crossed the rail tracks and was hit by the Amtrak train carrying 170 passengers.

Police spokesman Sgt Mark Gajeski said that according to witnesses “it looks like they probably did go around the arm”. The gate and flashing lights were apparently working properly as the car approached the crossing.

He added that the train typically travels about 67 mph at that spot.

The black Ford Fusion was hit broadside and pushed a mile down the track. It crumpled under the front of the train an ended right-side up, its roof and front crushed.

The dead were named as Jessica Sadler, 14, of Wayne; Eddie Gross, 18, of Taylor; brothers Sean Harris, 19, from the Detroit area, and Terrence Harris, 21, of Stafford, Virginia; and a 20-year-old from Taylor.

Jessica’s mother, Tammy Sadler, 45, was at her parents’ house in Canton Township, less than a mile from the scene of the accident, where the family had been staying while moving from Taylor to Wayne.

Sadler said that she had told her daughter to hurry home instead of going to the beach with her boyfriend, Eddie Gross.

“I told her she was going to be in trouble,” Sadler said, sobbing. “She asked me if she could go to the beach and I told her no, she had to come home … I feel I’m to blame.”

No one aboard the train was injured. Passengers were taken by bus to Ann Arbour to catch a later train to Chicago.

James Reese, 59, of Royal Oak, who was riding in the second car with his wife and grandson, said he felt a brief “surge” of the brakes but “no impact and no sound.”

“We just knew something bad had happened when the engineer came on the loudspeaker and told us people had been hurt in the accident,” Reese said. “Then he told us there were fatalities and we were very sad to hear that.”

Another passenger, Alice McCardell, 45, of Dearborn, said: “All of a sudden, there was a thunk. You knew you hit something but you didn’t know what.”

The train — with a front and rear engine and five passenger cars — stopped near a landfill and a wooded area. The mangled wreck of the car was covered with a tarpaulin.

“There is every indication the train crew was doing exactly what it should have been doing and that there was no malfunction of the train,” said Marc Magliari, a Chicago-based Amtrak spokesman. “They can’t make vehicles, or pedestrians for that matter, heed signals.”

“This is tragic for both the family of those who died and the train crew,” he said.

[Based on reports by newsday.com and the Detroit Free Press.]

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