SMART Transportation Division Local 583 (Fond du Lac, Wis.) suffered a tragic loss prior to the Labor Day weekend when member John A. Thornton was killed Aug. 31 after a suspected drunken driver smashed into his transport vehicle in Matteson, Ill., while en route to work.

Brother Thornton, 48, was a conductor for Canadian National (CN) and a member of our union for nearly two decades, joining in November 2005.

Two other members of the crew, fellow TD Local 583 member Larissa Pondexter, an engineer trainee, as well as engineer Tony Hargrow were hurt in the crash. Both were treated and released from the hospital, said General Chairperson Kenneth Flashberger of GO-987.

Flashberger said the transport vehicle driver also was hurt, treated and released.

“John was a longtime employee and had a big effect on all of us,” said Wisconsin State Legislative Director Andy Hauck, who has known Brother Thornton for nearly 20 years.

Canadian National has made grief counseling to Brother Thornton’s co-workers. SLD Hauck also said they have committed to covering the costs of our fallen member’s funeral.

“The CN Railroad really stepped up and has truly been extremely supportive and helpful,” he said.

Hauck said Thornton was an organ donor and it provides some comfort that he will live on.

“While he was with us, John provided real joy with his humor,” Hauck said. “Now he is living on in a last act of charity so that others may live. Let’s hope that the laughter also comes with his gift.” 

Local 583 Chairperson John Potter is collecting donations for the Thornton family. Checks may be made out to John Thornton’s wife, Janelle Thornton, and sent to Potter at 314 Oak St., Rosendale WI 54974

Brother Thornton is survived by Janelle and two daughters.

“Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers,” GC Flashberger said.

Visitation is scheduled noon to 4 p.m. local time Sept. 7 at Uecker-Witt Funeral Home, 524 N. Park St., Fond du Lac.

CN President and CEO Tracy Robinson also said that the carrier will observe a minute of silence Thursday, Sept. 7 in memory of Brother Thornton.

“Our operations colleagues will stop all yard movements and pause activities where safe to do so. All movements on the main track continue and we will pay respect by ringing the engine bell at 11 a.m. local time,” she said.

The SMART Transportation Division extends its sincere condolences to the family, friends and the union brothers and sisters of Local 583 who will continue to cherish Brother Thornton’s memory.


Brother Karl Middlemas, 62, of Local 807 (Tucson, Ariz.) – a member of our union for more than 13 years – died when the crew van he was being transported in collided with a tractor-trailer late on July 6.
Brother Middlemas hired on in 2007 and most recently served as a conductor for Union Pacific. He had completed his shift July 6 and was en route back to Tucson from Nogales when the van was struck at 11:24 p.m. local time on Interstate 19 south of Tucson. He was killed instantly in the crash.
He enjoyed working on and restoring cars, especially classic Mopars.
Additional details on a memorial will be updated when received.

SMART Transportation Division Local 934 member Curtis A. Deines, 52, a member of our union for more than 20 years, died before dawn on the morning of March 19 after the SUV he was being transported in was involved in a head-on collision with another vehicle on U.S. Highway 2 near Ravenna, Neb.
The driver and three other rail workers in the SUV that Deines was riding in were transported for treatment, as was the driver of the other vehicle involved in the accident, according to the Star-Herald of Scottsbluff, Neb. Deines passed away at the scene of the accident, the Buffalo County Sheriff’s Department stated in an accident report.


“He will be greatly missed here in Alliance,” said Local Chairperson Wendie Henderson of the Nebraska local.
Born in Torrington, Wyo., Brother Deines was a hall-of-fame athlete from his time as a center on the Chadron State College football team. He graduated college in 1996 with a degree in education.
He then entered into service with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad in the maintenance of way department and then transferred into train service as a conductor.
Great sources of pride and joy for him were watching his son, Colin, and daughter, KayLeah, succeed in life and becoming a grandpa, his family wrote in his obituary.
“Curt was loved by all and will be greatly missed for his big heart and infectious laugh,” his family wrote. “The role Curt played in each of our lives will never be forgotten.”
Brother Deines is survived by his wife, Sonya; his son, Colin Deines, and Colin’s girlfriend, Catie Williams; daughter, KayLeah King, and her husband, Robert; two grandchildren; his parents; his sister, Staci John, and her husband; two nieces; and a number of in-laws and other relatives.
A private memorial service is scheduled for March 27.
Click here to view Brother Deines’ full obituary and to leave condolences for the family.
The funeral home is accepting memorial donations in lieu of flowers. Checks can be made out to Sonya Deines and mailed to Chamberlain Chapel, 1700 Hwy. 20, Chadron, NE 69337. Online donations are also being accepted through a Go-fund-me page that has been set up to help out the family financially. 
SMART Transportation Division joins in mourning Brother Deines and offers its sincere condolences to his family and friends, his union brothers and sisters in Local 934, and to all who knew him.

After a prolonged five-year battle against the railroad carriers’ opposition to legislation to ensure the safety of their own employees; ESHB 1105, the number one priority of the SMART TD Washington State Legislative Board, was finally enacted into statute law May 16, when a large group of railroad workers who traveled to Olympia, Wash., witnessed the signing of this bill into law by Governor Jay Inslee (D).
The impetus for passing this law was the horrific crew van accident that occurred March 24, 2011, that resulted in the death of 22-year BNSF engineer Tom Kenny, 58; conductor-in-training Chris Loehr, 22; and Coach America van driver Steven Sebastian, 60; and the critical injuries sustained by conductor Dwight Hauck, 52. Those present for the enactment of this legislation included Laura Kenny and her family, the spouse and children of engineer Tom Kenny, as well as Hauck and his wife Susan.
“We are especially grateful to both the Kenny’s and the Hauck’s for their testimony and strong support of this legislation which was instrumental in our ability to eventually win out over the railroads opposition,” Washington State Legislative Director Herb Krohn said.
The new Washington State statute is the most stringent railroad contract crew transportation safety law in our nation, with most of the provisions taking effect on Jan. 1, 2018. According to Krohn, this law brings all rail contract transportation vehicles regardless of seating capacity, under the strict regulatory authority of the Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC). This agency has a mandate to regulate all aspects of rail contract crew transportation services including driver qualifications, equipment and operational safety, driver’s hours of service, passenger safety, drug testing provisions, as well as mandatory recordkeeping. The WUTC now has been granted the authority to enforce all aspects of this new law including the investigation of passenger complaints and the imposition of penalties. This law increases state insurance requirements from $1.5 million to $5 million of liability coverage, and will require coverage of no less than $1 million in Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist coverage, currently there are no UIM coverage requirements whatsoever.
Additionally this legislation requires state-approved notices be posted prominently in every contract crew vehicle to inform railroad employees of their right to safe transportation; the notices will also explain how to file safety complaints with the state for investigation. Drivers will soon be required to undergo a state-approved safety training program, they will be automatically disqualified from driving railroad employees for three years if their drivers license has been suspended more than once in the past three years for anything other than non-payment of a traffic ticket; as well as upon conviction of any alcohol or drug related traffic offense, using a vehicle to commit a felony, leaving the scene of an accident, prohibited passing of another vehicle, any railroad grade crossing traffic violations as well as driving with a suspended license.
The WUTC now has the authority to inspect all railroad and contractor passenger transportation vehicles; they are required by the new law to develop a periodic state inspection program for all contract transport vehicles. Lastly, to prevent attempts by railroad officers or contract crew transport companies from retaliating against our members, this new law includes a special confidentiality clause that prohibits agency public disclosure of the identity of any employee who submits a crew transportation safety complaint to the WUTC. While passage of this law is a major advancement, according to Krohn the WUTC rule making process to enforce the provisions of this statute is even more critical: “this is where the rubber really meets the road as the regulations the commission finally adopts will determine precisely how this new law will actually be applied and enforced and will impose the specific expectations on these contract operators.” Krohn is already actively engaged in participating in the regulatory development process of the WUTC.