By CHRIS HARRIS, CJ Staff Writer Commonwealth Journal
A man was apparently struck and killed by a train Tuesday evening near the West Columbia Street crossing, according to Somerset Police.
The man’s identity was not made available by presstime Tuesday night, but Lt. Shannon Smith of SPD did confirm that it was a Somerset male in his 20s.
Smith noted that shortly before 8 p.m., responders received a call as reported by the Norfolk Southern train dispatcher, saying that the locomotive had collided with an individual on the tracks.
Law enforcement was given a location near the old Monticello Street underpass and responded there, approximately where the southbound train had come to a halt.
However, Smith himself had a better view of the scene as he was flying SPD’s Guardian One gyroplane at the time. He spotted the victim — a good distance away from the area that was reported.
“I saw what looked like a person that was incapacitated,” said Smith, who regularly pilots the aircraft to look for situations in town that patrol cars may not be able to see. “A second pass confirmed my suspicions. I was able to direct our units down to where they found the body.”
Smith described the location as “due east” of Trinity Springs park, a short length away from West Columbia Street, on the Somerset Cemetery side of the road, the east side of the tracks.
“It was probably within five to 10 feet of the stopped train,” said Smith. The end of the train was farther north, by the Ogden Street bridge. “It was a long train.”
He recalled the last train-vs.-pedestrian victim as being hit near this same area — a young male was hit near the Monticello Street underpass in 2008 while walking near the tracks — and said that while it’s difficult to ascertain at this time why the subject was in the way of the train this time, “typically people mistake which track the train is on and think they’re in a safe position, or think they’re far enough away that they won’t be struck.”
Smith did say that it was evident the victim was headed northbound on the track, while the train was going south.
“For whatever reason, he didn’t see it; maybe he thought he was on a clean line, or a number of different things,” said Smith. “The fact is, he shared the same track (as the train) despite going in converging directions.”
Smith said that police will be working with railroad investigators to come to “some reasonable cause on why he was in position to be struck.”
The stopped train was released at approximately 9:30 p.m.
Smith reminded pedestrians that the tracks and adjacent property belong to the railroad company are considered private property upon which it is illegal to trespass.
“People who walk on the tracks are committing a violation of the law by being on those tracks,” said Smith, who said that many people who don’t have cars use the tracks as a shortcut when walking from one place to another. “(Obeying the law) would prevent a large number of fatalities across the country.”