For the first time in known history, an automobile was struck by a train at Seymour’s downtown railroad crossing on Commercial Street.
The 12:48 p.m. accident last Wednesday, April 21, left a 44-year-old Seymour woman with serious injuries after the 2004 Chrysler Sebring convertible she was driving was hit by an eastbound Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) locomotive carrying more than 100 cars, which hurled the car east about 100 feet to the south side of the railroad tracks, where emergency responders worked nearly an hour before she was airlifted by Cox Air Care to Cox Medical Center South in Springfield.
Injured was Terracotta M. Warren, who Trooper Austin James of the Missouri State Highway Patrol said wasn’t wearing a seatbelt when the train struck her silver car.
Warren previously is known to many in Seymour for a series of incidents over the past few years, including her residency in a storage building located south of the square and an alleged attempt to climb the city’s landmark 1926 water tower.
In his patrol report, James said the accident occurred when Warren “was backing northbound.”
His report said, “When she traveled onto the railway, past the cross arm, and was struck” by the 1999 BNSF C44-9W train on the car’s passenger side.
Seymour Police Chief Steven Pogue, who was one of the first to respond to the accident scene, said that evidence and witnesses at the scene suggest that Warren was racing to beat the train prior to the collision.
“She went around the median at the center of the street to avoid the cross arm,” Pogue explained.
“Terracotta was traveling south. She drove around the median to the northbound lane to beat the north-side cross arm, traveled through the crossing, then got caught by the south-side cross arm. (Warren) then backed up and got hit by the train.”
Pogue said the train’s engineer, 33-year-old Brandon C. Gettle of Pleasant Hope, was traveling at about 40 miles per hour before the accident.
“From what we learned, (Gettle) knew they probably were going to hit her, slowed down as fast as he could, then she backed her car into the train’s path,” he explained.
“All of this happened very quickly, but the train engineer knew an incident was possible and even likely. He saw her avoid the cross arm, switch lanes, cross the tracks, then get the front of her car hit by the cross arm coming down on the other side, which caused Terracotta to back up into the path of the train.”
The train was carrying 105 cars, Pogue said.
Only 11 of them were full.
“This did allow him to stop sooner and also to slow down quicker ... the lighter load,” Pogue said.
Sgt. Gabe Stroud of the Seymour Police Department said there was a motorist at the crossing who witnessed the entire accident.
“From what I learned (at the scene), Terracotta tried to beat the train by driving to the northbound lane, so she could avoid the southbound cross arm,” he said. “Once she got past the tracks, the northbound cross arm was coming down on the south side, it hit her car, then she backed up, which put her right in the path of the train.”
Pogue said that contrary to some rumors, he didn’t feel Warren intentionally attempted to be struck by the train in a suicide attempt.
“No, I don’t think there was any intention to it,” he said.
“As we learn more about the series of events, I feel it’s more of a case of trying to beat the train.
“I think Terracotta is guilty of being in a hurry. She’s just fortunate to be alive after this.”
He added that a full video of the entire accident was uncovered via surveillance cameras at The Seymour Bank, located just northeast of the crossing.
“The train engineer felt that the front of her car may have been hung up on the cross arm on the south side of the railroad tracks, which is possible since (Warren) was in the wrong lane,” Stroud said.
“Ultimately, the people at the front of the train saw her back up onto the tracks.”
Pogue said Warren’s injuries appeared severe.
“There were lacerations on the back of her head,” he noted. “There also were unknown internal injuries. At the scene, the issue was getting her stable.”
Stroud confirmed this.
“Medical personnel just couldn’t get an I.V. line in her, which had to be done before flying her,” he said. “Terracotta also was complaining of horrible abdominal pain, which I feel led responders to believe there were internal injuries.
“She is just so blessed to be alive.”