Deadly Hickory rail crossing on agenda; mayor says closing won't help

By Staff
REMEMBERED n Three of Kirk Buntyn's closest friends placed a memorial for him near the Smede Street crossing the day after Buntyn lost his life there on Dec. 29, 1999. Buntyn's tragic death was the second of three at the crossing since November of 1999. Photo by Paula Merritt/The Meridian Star.
By Sheila Blackmon/The Meridian Star
Feb. 8, 2001
HICKORY Town officials here expect to discuss the fate of a deadly downtown railroad crossing at an aldermen's meeting tonight, but Hickory Mayor Wayne Griffith says closing the crossing won't help.
Sidney Wagner, a 54-year-old Hickory man, died Tuesday afternoon after failing to yield to an oncoming Kansas City Southern freight train at the Smede Street crossing. Railroad representatives at the scene would make no comment.
Police officials said witnesses reported Wagner didn't look before he attempted to cross the track. The train, traveling at about 58 mph, struck the middle of Wagner's John Deere tractor.
Griffith said he and the town's aldermen haven't discussed the crossing since the accident because he has been out of the office dealing with other problems.
The Smede Street crossing has no flashing signal lights, bells or crossing gates to forewarn drivers of an oncoming train. A short distance to the west, the other crossing is equipped with signal lights.
Members of this small, rural community have seen three people lose their lives at the Smede Street crossing since November 1999. Some feel the crossbuck at the track and the warning painted on the pavement are not sufficient to prevent accidents.
Trinette Wilson, 21, and Kirk Buntyn, 18, both died after their vehicles collided with Kansas City Southern freight trains. Wilson's accident occurred on Nov. 2, 1999, and Buntyn's less than two months later on Dec. 29.
Many Hickory residents want the crossing upgraded or closed altogether. Many say they don't care which, as long as something is done. They started pressuring town officials to take action after Buntyn's death.
The board of aldermen voted early last year not to close the track despite a recommendation by the Mississippi Department of Transportation to do so. Town officials also refused to upgrade the crossing.
Griffith said he knows of no other crossing in the area as bad as Smede Street, but he doesn't know what to do about the dangerous intersection.
The mayor and aldermen are scheduled to meet tonight at 7 p.m. at the town hall.
Sheila Blackmon is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail her at sblackmon@themeridianstar.com.

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