Expert says crossing is unsafe
HENDERSON COUNTY–John Stevens, 78, of Mabank entered a plea of not guilty in a Henderson County courtroom July 3. Stevens was driving the Athens ISD school bus January 25, when the bus was hit by a train at the crossing on Cream Level Road in Athens.
The collision killed 13-year-old Joseph Bonilla and injured 9-year-old Joselyn Torres. Stevens was treated for his injuries and released. The two children were the only other occupants of the bus at the time. A Henderson County Grand Jury indicted Stevens May 31 for criminally negligent homicide, a state jail felony and injury to a child, a second-degree felony.
Dallas-based CBS Channel 11 I-Team ran a report July 3 citing an interview with Bob Pottroff, a railroad crossing lawyer. In the interview, Pottroff called the crossing “a death trap and an accident waiting to happen.”
Pottroff told the television reporter there were three dangers:
• The angle of the intersection is not 90 degrees. Pottroff said most accidents happen when you have to look beyond the physical abilities of your neck.
• Laying new asphalt to maintain the smoothness of the crossing. The periodic maintenance creates a hump that a vehicle has to get over to cross the intersection which takes more time for a large vehicle.
• No warning signals. The crossing has no lights, signals or gates, counting on a driver to look and listen for an approaching train.
Pottroff was quoted in the article as saying that the school bus should never have been at that intersection.
When the accident happened in January, there was a government shutdown going on, so the National Traffic Safety Board did not investigate the incident. The case was investigated by Henderson County and handed over to the Grand Jury for indictment.
Monday, July 8 the subject of the crash and report by Pottroff was discussed briefly at the Athens City Council meeting. Athens Police Chief Buddy Hill said he had met with the Union Pacific representative who specializes in crossings to discuss ways to obtain funding to improve crossings in the city. Hill said he was advised that the city should work through TxDOT to obtain funding and that Federal dollars may be available.
Hill added that if funding is not available, the city could offer up funds but that the engineering etc. would be very expensive. Hill said they were collecting data on traffic flow and had reached out to the school district for bus route information in light of some new housing developments in that area. He added that even once a project is approved, there is typically a 16-month delay before any construction is begun.