3 dead, one critical in BNSF Wash. collision

March 24, 2011

KELSO, Wash. — A van shuttling BNSF workers to Vancouver, Wash., was struck by a BNSF freight train at a private crossing here Wednesday afternoon, March 23, killing two van passengers and the van driver, and critically injuring another passenger.

Killed were conductor trainee Chris Loehr, 28, of Seattle; engineer and BLET member Thomas J. Kenny, 58, a 22-year BNSF employee of Shoreline, Wash.; and the Coach America Crew Transport driver Steven Dean Sebastian, 60, of Castle Rock, Wash.

Loehr signed on with BNSF in January after his honorable discharge from the U.S. Army. He was an Iraq combat veteran, according to his family.

Critically injured and hospitalized is UTU member and conductor Dwight L. Hauck, 51, of Auburn, Wash., a member and trustee of UTU Local 324 with 22 years of railroad service.

There were no reported injuries to the crew operating the freight train, none of whom have been identified.

The 4:32 p.m. accident occurred at what BNSF calls Longview Junction. Kelso is about six miles northeast of Longview, Wash., and about 120 miles south of Seattle. Vancouver, Wash., where the van was headed, is some 40 miles south of Kelso and some 10 miles north of Portland, Ore.

The Longview Daily News reports the shuttle van had just departed a BNSF yard at Kelso and was crossing the tracks at the private crossing when struck by a northbound freight train with a consist of three locomotives and 106 carloads of grain. The Seattle-bound train had originated in Crookston, Minn.

Following the collision, the van plunged down a 25-foot embankment, landing some 50 feet from the highway-rail grade-crossing.

The BNSF operating employees in the van reportedly had brought a train from Seattle to Kelso and were being transported by Coach America Crew Transport to Vancouver for overnight lodging.

A BNSF spokesperson told the newspaper that the private crossing has “crossing signs and stop signs.”

The Federal Railroad Administration has launched an investigation.