SALT LAKE CITY -- The decision to ignore the warning signs, sounds and crossing arm for an oncoming TRAX train has left two people dead and two others critically injured after a driver tried to beat the train at a crossing.
Authorities have released the names of the two people killed in the wreck. The driver was Alex Amundson, 21, of Fairview. The passenger was Donald Callison, 18, of Monroe. One of the survivors is an 18-year-old woman from West Valley City; the other is a 19-year-old man from Vernal. Everyone in the car was in Salt Lake City training as shift managers for KFC. They were headed from store to store, and they had just met each other.
The crash happened shortly after 7 p.m. Thursday. Investigators say the red Chevrolet was waiting at the crossing arms near 200 West and 4100 South for the train to pass.
18-year-old Donald Callison, of Monroe, was killed when the car he was in was hit by a TRAX train. He was sitting behind the driver and died at the scene. Then the driver pulled around the gate and into the path of a train, which was running at full speed.
Capt. Clint Smith of the Unified Fire Authority said, "The arms were down and they did go around those arms to possibly try to beat the train."
"The evidence at the scene suggests that the initial point of impact was in a place where the vehicle would have had to go around to get there," Lt. Don Hutson of the Unified Police Department said.
The driver of the car was killed immediately, and the man sitting behind the driver died later at the scene. Two other passengers on the right side of the car were taken to the hospital in critical condition.
"It was definitely a direct hit. It literally encompassed the entire front of the train. It took the car along with the passengers 300 feet down the tracks," Hutson said. "It wasn't a glancing blow… Those two ... on the left side of the vehicle took the force of a 55-60 mph train with only a door between them and that impact."
The two survivors of this crash are still in the hospital. The 18-year-old woman from West Valley City wasn't expected to make it though the night, but she did and is now in critical condition. A co-worker of hers told KSL she is making progress and responding to some family members.
The 19-year-old man from Vernal is in stable condition but suffered major injures to his legs.
Investigators will now work with both of the survivors to get a better understanding of what prompted the driver to cross onto the track.
Two families deal with the loss of their sons
The family of the driver, Alex Amundson, says they have had a lot of support from friends and family. They say the sudden death of their son has not quite sunk in and there are a lot of unanswered questions about what happened Thursday night.
Alex Amundson, 21, of Fairview, was killed in the Thursday night accident. He was driving the vehicle and was killed instantly. Alex's family says the shift manager training was something he was looking forward to. "He was very motivated and very excited to kind of move up in the company," Bryan Amundson said.
The family is now dealing with the loss of a son and a decision he made.
"I don't know why he would do that. That's one of the things that is just really puzzling to us, and it's haunting me that three other people would be injured," Bryan Amundson said. "Our hearts are saddened because of Alex's passing … Our hearts go out to those who were in the car with Alex at the time."
Donald Callison's mother spoke with KSL on the phone Friday afternoon. She said she is still in shock at the news of her son's death.
Alex's family says the next few days will be challenging as they deal with his death. They say they will always think of him as the kind-hearted young man they knew.
"I would hope people would remember his wonderful piercing blue eyes and that smile and the big bear hug that he would give nearly everyone he would meet," Bryan Amundson said.
A spokesperson for KFC expressed the sympathies of the restaurant, saying, "Our heartfelt condolences and prayers are with the [families] in their time of need."
First fatal TRAX of 2010
At least 60 people were on the train but none of them was injured. They were eventually checked out by emergency responders and then transferred to another train.
A Utah Transit Authority spokesman has said that the maximum speed for the train is 55 mph. Given the distance from the departing TRAX station, the train was probably going close to full speed when it hit the car.
The TRAX operator is on administrative leave as the investigation continues.
UTA spokesperson Gerry Carpenter says this is the first multiple fatal accident involving a TRAX train they have ever had. This is the first fatal crash this year.
"We cannot caution people enough how important it is when you see those arms come down, when you hear the bells, when you see the flashing lights, you need to stop and give the train the right of way, because they do travel very quickly and they can't stop very quickly," Carpenter said.
Go to Mapquest and search for the location 140 W Central Ave, Salt Lake City, Ut.
Zoom all the way in to see the details of the Trax crossing. If you approach from the east, there is a one-foot high curb in the middle of the street to prevent drivers from going around the crossing arm.
If you approach the crossing from the west, there is no curb in the middle of the street. That is because there is a road alongside the west side of the Trax right-of-way. The car came up the street, went left around the crossing arm, and before he could clear the rails, the Trax train hit the car.