Hickory man third fatality at deadly rail crossing

By Staff
POINT OF IMPACT n Sidney Wagner of Hickory was killed Tuesday when an oncoming Kansas City Southern freight train collided with the farm tractor he was driving. The cab of the tractor, pictured here, appeared to be the direct point of impact. Photo by Paula Merritt/The Meridian Star
By Sheila Blackmon/The Meridian Star
Feb. 7, 2001
HICKORY A Hickory man was killed here Tuesday by an oncoming train at a deadly downtown crossing where two others have died since 1999.
Sidney Wagner, 54, was killed when he drove his farm tractor into the path of an oncoming Kansas City Southern freight train, police said. He was the third person to be killed in less than 15 months at the Smede Street grade crossing, a quiet, unlit crossing that officials have declined to close.
Assistant Police Chief Dan Hurst of the Hickory Police Department said the accident occurred between 2:30 and 3 p.m. He said residents whose homes are alongside the tracks witnessed the accident, as did people in four other vehicles awaiting the train at the crossing.
Wagner was traveling northbound. Hurst said he doesn't know the man's speed, but it "couldn't be too fast. He was pulling a long trailer."
Investigators and officials from the Hickory Police Department, the Newton County Sheriff's Department, the Mississippi Highway Patrol and Kansas City Southern Railroad combed the wreckage and tracks for more than two hours. Hurst said his investigation could take up to a week.
He said Kansas City Southern Railroad officials are conducting a separate investigation. A Kansas City Southern official at the scene would not comment.
The deadly crossing has neither crossing gates nor flashing signal lights to indicate an oncoming train, officials said. Even though three lives have now been claimed at the crossing, there are no plans to upgrade safety features at the site.
The first person to die in mishaps at the crossing since late 1999 was Trinette Wilson, 21, a resident of Hickory. She died on Nov. 2, 1999 after her car collided with a Kansas City Southern freight train. Less than two months later, on Dec. 29, 18-year-old Kirk Buntyn died at the same crossing after his car collided with a Kansas City freight train.
After that Dec. 29 fatality, Hickory residents demanded action be taken to stop collisions at a crossing that has neither gates nor lights. It has only cross bucks and a painted warning in the pavement to stop at the intersection. Residents want the crossing closed or upgraded.
Wilson's aunt, Willie Burns, said after Buntyn's death that she has lived near the crossing for 42 years and has never heard of anything like these tragedies happening before. She and her brother, Perry Broach, said they attributed the accidents to an increase in the trains' speed limit through town from 35 to 55 mph.
Early last year, the Hickory Board of Aldermen voted against Mississippi Department of Transportation officials' recommendation to close the crossing. A nearby crossing to the west has warning lights and bells, but the Smede Street crossing remains quiet and unlit.
Hurst said he knows of no plans to upgrade it because "the death toll probably isn't high enough."
Sheila Blackmon is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail her at sblackmon@themeridianstar.com.