2008-11-10

Rocky Ford Grade Crossing Claims Three

Two teenaged sisters and their grandmother were killed when they drove in front of a BNSF freight train in Otero County here in Colorado on Friday evening. According to the Denver Post article, Trooper Gilbert Mares of the Colorado State Patrol said that Devonna Griffin was driving a blue Dodge Durango north on Otero County Road 20.5 about a quarter mile east of Rocky Ford at 4:49 p.m. when the train struck the vehicle. Driver Devonna Griffin, 17, front-seat passenger Krystal Griffin, 19, and back-seat passenger Joan Griffin, 66, were all killed in the accident.

According to a more detailed account in the Rocky Mountain News,
The SUV was hit on the driver's side, which sent the vehicle spinning counterclockwise. The vehicle went off the east side of the roadway and came to rest on its right side, facing southwest.

The train was a local BNSF freight working out of Denver, crewed by three employees based out of La Junta. None of the crew were physically harmed.

The reason for the driver's failure to yield to the train is still under investigation, although at least one article interviewing the victims families posits a few theories. US Highway 50, the main highway in the area runs parallel to the tracks just north of the grade crossing. It could be possible that the most inexperienced driver of the three victims ignored the crossing because she was approaching the highway, a danger perceived by the young driver as more imminent or more threatening.

Whatever the reason, the tragedy is that three women lost their lives in an accident that could possibly have been prevented by railroad crossing lights and arms. This same grade crossing claimed the lives of two men earlier this year and Otero county officials prioritized the crossing for the improvements. In fact, one report presented that Otero County had taken delivery of such safety devices but had not installed them. The improvements will come next year, too late for the three victims this weekend, and not soon enough for the other residents of Rocky Ford.