“It all happened too fast. I remember someone yelling at us to get out of the car,” Frances Evans said.
The Orangeburg woman was a passenger in a Kia Optima being driven by her husband, Ivan Evans. He attempted to turn right onto Whitman Street from Magnolia Street just after noon on Wednesday.
“Before I turned, I didn’t hear or see the train,” Ivan Evans said.
He said as he turned onto Whitman “that’s when the rail guards came down.” He said he attempted to miss colliding with the automatic railroad crossing gates and placed the vehicle in reverse to back up.
“The front wheel went down in there (the railroad track), so it was stuck so I couldn’t move so I just had to get out of the car,” Evans said.
He and his wife exited the vehicle before the eastbound Norfolk Southern train struck it.
“Actually, I thought he (the engineer) was going to be able to stop in time … when I saw he had that threshold, I said, ‘No, he ain’t going to make it,’” Evans said.
The train’s engineer “saw them caught between the crossing arms,” said Lt. Alfred Alexander of the Orangeburg Department of Public Safety. The collision is still under investigation.
Norfolk Southern Director of Public Relations Robin Chapman said the collision occurred at 12:20 p.m. and was the result of a vehicle that “attempted to beat a train at the crossing and got stuck on the crossing.”
John Williams, a Claflin University senior, said “I heard a loud crash and boom” when the collision occurred while he was at the On & On Barbershop on Magnolia Street.
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Another witness, Destynae Dark of Orangeburg, said she was getting out of a vehicle at the Verizon store on Whitman Street when she heard the train approaching and a man screaming, “Get out! Get out!”
Dark said she consoled Mrs. Evans.
Wednesday’s train-versus-vehicle collision is the seventh to take place on Whitman Street since November 2004. The last occurred in March 2010. In that incident, a 34-year-old man was able to get out of his vehicle before the train struck it. He was not hurt.
Here’s a list of other train-vehicle collisions at the Whitman Street location over the past decade:
October 2009 — A 28-year-old male driver failed to clear the crossing and his vehicle was struck by a train. He was cited for ignoring the railroad signal. Four people were in the vehicle and one was injured.
February 2007 — A train slammed into a van, tossing the vehicle into the air before it crashed into a nearby ditch. The van was stopped on the tracks, waiting for a car ahead of it to move. Two people were able to get out of the van. One person failed to get out before the collision but did not sustain any life-threatening injuries.
November 2006 — A train ran into the rear of a car. The driver exited the vehicle before it was struck and was not injured. The train was traveling at an estimated 40 miles per hour.
November 2006 — A woman bailed out of her car before it was struck by a train.
November 2004 — A 20-year-old woman’s vehicle was struck by a train. The woman escaped from the crash uninjured.