Safety & Compliance

Witnesses Say Driver Didn’t Go Around Gates

March 21, 1999

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News reports over the weekend suggest that despite a less-than-stellar safety record, the truck driver involved in a tragic train derailment last week did not drive around the crossing gates in an attempt to beat the train.

The Chicago Sun-Times yesterday reported that investigators are now less than convinced that trucker John Stokes was trying to get his steel-loaded flatbed rig around the gates at the crossing in Bourbonnais, IL, when it was struck by an Amtrak train last Monday night, killing 11 people.
A witness who apparently was in a car behind the truck initially was thought to have corroborated the train engineer’s statement right after the crash that the trucker was trying to go around the gates. Because of language problems (the witness’s native language is Spanish), investigators say his testimony was misunderstood, and in fact the witness did not see the truck snake around the gates. A second witness, in a preliminary interview, reportedly also said Stokes did not drive around the gates.
Stokes has said the warning lights and gates did not go off until after he started across the tracks. Investigators say tests show the gates and warning lights appeared to be working at the time of the crash.
Tire tracks were found near the crossing, but one source told the Sun-Times Saturday that none of them was in a place that would indicate the truck was snaking around the gates. Investigators also are looking at a broken tip of a crossing gate taken from the scene.
The newspaper also reports that Stokes’ record is “troubled.” According to the newspaper, he has had his license suspended four times and was involved in four accidents that caused injuries.

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