A Texas (TX) teen considering basketball scholarships from the likes of NCAA Division 1 power Baylor University and Norfolk’s own overachiever Old Dominion University lost his life over the Fourth of July weekend when the family car he was driving was struck by a Union Pacific train in Duncan, Oklahoma (OK).

According to reports of the accident in the Dallas Morning News, the young man was visiting his grandmother and returning from an errand during the early evening of July 3, 2010. The accident occurred at an “unprotected crossing,” meaning the owner of the railway had not set up red lights, stop signs or gates to alert drivers to stop and let an approaching train move through the intersection with the road.

On the day following the fatal collision, the teen’s father told a reporter,


They’re going to get some freaking lights up or guard rail up at that spot so no one else has to go through what my wife and I are going through now. Right now, I have some anger and a lot of questions why. I hate that my son has to be the guy who gets it turned around. We’re just trying to deal with it the best we can. …

It wasn’t like he was going around the guard rail or trying to beat the train. They said he was driving up and he had slowed down before he proceeded on. It sounds like he didn’t see or hear the train and it hit him. It was just a freak accident that happened, just tragic.

Tragic, yes. But this deadly grade crossing accident was no freak occurrence. The National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances notes that “approximately 4,000 times per year, a collision occurs between a train and highway vehicle at one of this country’s 262,000 public and private highway-rail grade crossings.” More than half of the grade crossings are as unprotected as the one in Duncan, OK.

Neither the federal government nor any states require all rail owners and railroad companies to install stop signals and barriers at train crossings. Indeed, freight haulers such as Norfolk Southern, CSX and Burlington Northern Santa Fe often complain that installing, maintaining and operating warning signals and barriers at grade crossings is too expensive — putting profits above human lives.

My thoughts go out to the family of the young athlete who died to soon. I can only hope that rail executives feel similarly moved and act to make every grade crossing as safe as possible.