Austin residents are still reeling from the news of a fatal crash involving a charter bus and a freight train in Biloxi, Mississippi, last week. The crash, which occurred last Tuesday, March 7, killed four people from the Austin area and left thirty-five injured. Only seven passengers were reported to be unharmed.
Three passengers died at the scene, while a fourth succumbed to her injuries at a local Biloxi hospital. All of the victims had strong ties to the Austin area, including a husband and wife who had served as administrators in the Lockhart Independent School District, one as an assistant superintendent, the other as a school principal.
The crash happened around 2:15 in the afternoon on the third day of a seven-day tour that would have taken the passengers to two casinos, Bay St. Louis, and New Orleans, before returning to Austin. The bus had been chartered by the Bastrop Senior Center, and all on board were members at the center or had ties to it. At the time of the crash, the bus was on its way to the Boomtown Casino in Biloxi.
It’s not completely clear what happened, but one witness told a Biloxi paper that the bus had been stuck on the tracks for at least five minutes before the crash and that passengers had started leaving it. Some of those outside the bus may have been struck by it or trapped under it during the crash.
A Biloxi Police Sergeant told reporters that this particular rail crossing is steep and is not recommended for buses. Signs posted there warn of the danger, and the crossing has signals and crossing arms.
In fact, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which is investigating the crash, noted that there have been no fewer than seventeen crashes at that crossing since 1976, including at least two with fatalities. In January, a delivery truck was struck by a train at that crossing after it became stuck on the tracks. No one was hurt in that incident.
There were 265 deaths at rail crossings in the United States last year. Although it was not a factor in this case, most collisions at rail crossings are caused by car drivers, not train operators. Drivers should know better: The force of impacts with trains should not be underestimated. In the Biloxi crash, the train operator had seen the bus and had been braking for more than 500 feet. The train was still moving at 19 mph when it struck the bus, which weighed around twenty tons, and still pushed it about 300 feet before stopping. It’s no wonder that a person in a car struck by a train has twenty times the chance of fatal injury compared to being struck by another car.
The investigation into the Biloxi crash has only just begun, and it may be many months before a final report reveals exactly what happened. In train wrecks of this kind, there are many possibilities. Was the crossing properly maintained with all signs and signals in place and operating? Was the train driver following all proper procedures? Did the bus driver do anything to place the passengers at risk? Was the bus company operating safely, or could there have been a preventable mechanical failure that left the bus in that vulnerable position? All these questions and many others will need to be asked and answered.
When you’ve been involved in a crash at a railroad crossing, it’s important to have experienced help on your side as you pursue compensation for the injuries and property damage caused. Colley & Colley understands railroad crossing accident cases, and we fight hard for our clients. Give us a call today at 1-877-411-2001 or contact us online through the form below to schedule a free consultation.