November 15, 2019

North Carolina Railroad Crossing Accidents

A recent railroad crossing accident in Raleigh, NC resulted in the death of a woman from Fuquay-Varina, NC.  Lynette Renee Fowler, 42, was driving a 1999 Chevrolet SUV when she was struck by an Amtrak train near downtown Raleigh. She was thrown from her truck on impact  and pronounced dead at the scene. There were no passengers in her vehicle. No one aboard the train was injured. The accident occurred just after 5 p.m. on February 6.  It was Fowler’s 42nd birthday.

According to witnesses, the Amtrak train and SUV collided after the woman drove around the crossing gate and across a gravel parking lot into the path of the train. Erskin Walker, who works in the area and saw the accident, told local TV station WRAL that “her brakes went out or something. It had to be her brakes go out.” He continued, “She just went into it, just went right into the train.” He and others rushed to the scene to try to help her, but rescue workers found her dead. Police are investigating what may have caused Fowler to drive into the path of the train, including pursuing an autopsy report to determine whether alcohol or drugs may have played a role.

There was no indication that the railroad crossing warning devices failed in this case. Rather, witnesses reported that the crossing bars went down and the crossing lights were flashing. Nevertheless, the NC Department of Transportation will investigate the railroad crossing as a matter of standard policy. Paul C. Worley, acting director of the DOT’s rail division, emphasized how crucial it is that motorists obey railroad signals. He stressed to reporters the one safety factor which cannot be controlled by the DOT: “Stay off the tracks, stay off the tracks and then, stay off the tracks.” Worley emphasized: “The fact is, at the end of the day we can make (railroad crossings) safe, but it’s up to the driver.”

NC Transportation Secretary Tony Tata told reporters that there have been 10 rail accidents and five fatalities in the state since the beginning of the year, which is much worse than previous years’ trends. “We believe one crash in the state is too many,” he said. “And so we are working on a comprehensive rail safety campaign. I asked to see the trends from accidents and fatalities for past years, and we are already above that glide path. So we’ve got to find a way to bend that (trend) back downward to no accidents and no fatalities.”

In a final twist to the tragic story, court records were discovered showing that Fowler was scheduled to appear in court later this year on charges of embezzling around $30,000 from her former employer, a law firm representing chemical manufacturers and contractors. She was accused of embezzling the funds over a period of two years and recently had been released from county jail after posting a $5,000 bond.

The Amtrak train involved in the wreck was Train 79, the Carolinian, making a regular stop at Raleigh on its route between New York City and Charlotte, NC. After a 3-hour delay, the train finished its normal route.