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Published: Friday, 1/19/2001

Warning devices set for site of fatal collision with train

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A Lake Township railroad crossing where a Lake High School football player was killed last year in a train-car collision is one of 17 sites that will get new warning devices, a state agency ordered yesterday.

Norfolk Southern Corp. has one year to install warning lights and gates at the Ayers Road crossing, west of Millbury, in Wood County under the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio order.

“That's wonderful,” said Joseph Abraham, whose son, Joseph P. Abraham, 17, was killed Sept. 29 when the teen's car and an Amtrak passenger train collided at the crossing marked only by so-called “Buckeye Crossbuck” signs.

Eight other crossings cited in the order also are in northwest Ohio. They are:

w CSX Transportation Corp crossings at Suder Avenue near Manhattan Boulevard in North Toledo; Greensburg Pike, south of Bradner in Wood County's Montgomery Township; at Main Street in Risingsun; at State Rt. 65 in Leipsic; at McKibben Street in downtown Lima, and at Walnut Street in downtown Bucyrus.

  • A Norfolk Southern crossing on Williams County Road H in Florence Township, near Blakeslee.

  • An Indiana & Ohio crossing is on Henry County Road G, north of Hamler.

    Mr. Abraham said he believes warning lights and gates could have prevented the death of his son, an offensive and defensive tackle on the football team, who was planning to stop at home before heading for that night's game with Elmwood Local High School.

    “There is absolutely no question he would still be alive. Joe was a very safe driver. He was especially a safe driver as far as railroad crossings,” he said.

    “I am sure that if he was aware that an Amtrak train was speeding down the track, he would have stopped,” Mr. Abraham said.

    Authorities said the train's engineer told them that young Abraham looked toward the passenger train only at the last instant and may have focused his attention on a freight train that was proceeding slowly toward him on a parallel track.

    Mr. Abraham and his wife, Sue, moved recently to Genoa from a home on Millbury Road, less than two miles from the crossing, that they shared with their son - their only child.

    “He was very much part of our lives. Our family has changed so much now,” Mr. Abraham said.

    “We crossed that track many times. When he first started to drive, we went across it and he was well aware of the danger of trains,” Mr. Abraham said.

    Walbridge Councilwoman Joann Schiavone helped lead the campaign for the improvements after she unexpectedly witnessed the immediate aftermath of the accident. She was with Lake Township Fire Chief Dennis Boos investigating unauthorized burning when the chief was called to the accident. It is a tragedy she said she would never forget.

    “The car was still hooked to the train,” she said. “Every time I hear a train whistle ... I remember the accident. It just rings in my ears. I feel so badly for the family.”

    The tragedy had a profound effect on Mrs. Schiavone and spurred her into action.

    She put together a resolution urging the PUCO to have the lights and gates installed at the crossing. It was passed by Walbridge council and the Lake Local board of education. The resolution also was sent to Governor Taft and the area's state and federal legislators. Area residents also passed petitions and held rallies calling attention to the dangerous rail crossing.

    PUCO officials visited the crossing Nov. 1 to evaluate it as a candidate for warning devices.

    The PUCO's main criteria for selecting a crossing for warning lights and gates is the amount of train traffic, the number of motor vehicles using the crossing, and the crossing's accident history.

    A typical installation costs between $100,000 and $150,000. Once installed, the railroads are responsible for maintaining the warning devices.

    The crossing at Suder near Manhattan is one of the last crossings on the CSX main line through Toledo without warning lights and gates.

    The tracks are among the busiest in Toledo, with about 40 trains traveling through the crossing on a daily basis. The other eight sites in Ohio are in Darke, Shelby, Clinton, Morrow, Delaware, Clermont, Fairfield, and Licking counties.

    The railroads involved have 90 days to submit installation plans and cost estimates to the state, and all 17 installations must be completed by Jan. 18, 2002.



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