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Police: Driver left tractor trailer struck by train unattended on tracks

By 69 News, (follow: @69news), news@wfmz.com
Liz Kilmer, Reporter, LKilmer@wfmz.com
Published On: May 29 2014 09:36:01 AM CDT
Updated On: May 29 2014 05:21:40 PM CDT

A Florida man has been jailed on charges he caused a catastrophe by leaving his tractor trailer unattended on railroad tracks moments before it was struck by a freight train.

TOPTON, Pa. -

A Florida man has been jailed on charges he caused a catastrophe by leaving his tractor trailer unattended on railroad tracks moments before it was struck by a freight train.

The accident happened around 5:15 p.m. Wednesday on the tracks near the intersection of North Home and Center avenues in Topton.

Alton Russell parked the 18-wheeler on the tracks so that he could get out and ask someone for directions, state police said.

Before Russell returned, the truck was struck by a westbound train, traveling at 45 mph, with the impact slicing the trailer in half and causing the truck's cab to flip onto its side.

"He was in there maybe a minute max, if that. He walked back out and as he was leaving the diner, it just, 'boom,'" said waitress Tiffany Bauer. "There were parts of tractor trailer everywhere, you know, this side of the road, the other side of the road."

The two people aboard the train, a conductor and engineer, were not hurt.

The empty truck was totaled; about $35,000 worth of damage was done to the Norfolk Southern train and the crossing's warning lights.

"The train was carrying general merchandise. [It] wasn't carrying anything that could have been volatile," said Trooper David Beohm, Pennsylvania State Police. "There's a lot of 'what ifs.' Thank God we didn't have the 'what ifs' yesterday and it ended sort of peacefully, so to speak."

Russell, 65, of Daytona, was charged Thursday with causing catastrophe, risking catastrophe, criminal mischief, recklessly endangering another person and related offenses. He was committed to the Berks County Jail on $50,000 bail.

As for the damaged crossing, Norfolk Southern told 69 News that new gates were installed and tested Wednesday night.

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