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Trucker Saw Warning Lights Before Train Hit

September 16, 1999

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As the National Transportation Safety Board sifted through conflicting testimony during a three-day hearing this week on the fatal Bourbonnais, IL, truck-train crash, the Chicago Tribune reported that the truck driver saw warning lights flashing before he tried to speed through a railroad crossing.

The newspaper obtained transcripts of three interviews of John R. Stokes by NTSB investigators. Stokes consistently said he saw the lights after he entered the intersection, then hit the accelerator. The Amtrak train crashed into the back of his steel-loaded rig the night of March 15, killing 11 people.
"I just got to the tracks and the flashers started, so I just floorboarded it," Stokes told an investigator shortly after the accident, the newspaper reported. "I don't remember if I heard the whistle or not … and then I thought I had it made across there, and bam!"
Stokes refused to testify during the hearings this week, which uncovered conflicting testimony about whether or not the crossing gates came down.
Right after the crash, Amtrak engineer Angel Flores told one of his rescuers the trucker had ignored down gates and entered the crossing. That came to light in a statement made by Illinois Central Railroad track supervisor John Tuckett, who was one of the first to reach Flores, reports the Tribune.

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One witness, who was in a car behind the truck at the crossing, testified that Stokes went around the crossing gates. Another witness, a truck driver loading nearby, said he saw the warning lights but never saw the gates come down. A railroad official testified that there is no physical evidence the crossing gate closed on the back of the truck. John Sharkey told the NTSB that engineers are certain the gates "operated as expected," and were damaged during the collision.
The NTSB says it probably won't have a report on the crash until next spring.

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