Investigators await train camera footage

Investigators await train camera footage

August 28th, 2011 by Beth Burger in News

Hamilton County Sheriff's Office investigators comb the site where two people were struck and killed by a train near Sale Creek, Tenn.

Photo by Tracey Trumbull/Times Free Press.

Investigators still are waiting for footage from a Norfolk Southern train's camera and information from its "black box" to show what happened early Monday morning when two people were killed near a railroad crossing.

The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office continues to investigate the deaths of 19-year-old Hannah Barnes and 27-year-old Michael Hennen, who were struck on tracks running through the McDonald Farm near Sale Creek. They were hit just after 6 a.m. Monday, authorities say.

Barnes was laid to rest on Friday, and Hennen was buried Thursday.

The county medical examiner's office completed its initial examinations of the remains, but the reports are being held pending toxicology results and input from investigators who continue to wait for Norfolk Southern to send the train camera's footage.

The sheriff's office is the only agency looking into the deaths.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation does not examine safety issues when incidents occur near private railroad crossings, said Jennifer Flynn, spokeswoman for TDOT.

The Federal Railroad Administration is notified within 24 hours when a fatality occurs on a railroad, said Warren Flatau, spokesman for the administration. However, unless the fatality occurs under extenuating circumstances, such as a major train derailment, the federal agency does not become involved, he said.

When the Norfolk Southern train's black box - technically known as an event recorder - is made available to investigators, it will give them such details as the time, train speed, brake application and how long the horn was blown.

Hennen was the manager at his family's restaurant, Hennen's, located downtown. Barnes worked at the restaurant. Questions remain about why the pair was on the tracks.

Susan Terpay, spokeswoman for Norfolk Southern, said the speed limit on the track is 50 mph. The 12-car train was heading south when the two were struck.

Terpay said the train crew saw something on the tracks and blew the horn.

Trains are not required to blow their horns when approaching private crossings. Norfolk Southern also does not require its crew to sound the horn when approaching private crossings.

That's something Pamela O'Dwyer, a local attorney who specializes in railroad litigation, would like to see changed in light of last week's deaths near a private crossing.

Over the course of about an hour around 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, three trains passed along the Norfolk Southern tracks near the McDonald Farm. All three were heading north.

The crews sounded the horn inconsistently at the public crossings. One train blew one short whistle at the public crossing, while the other trains blew a series of whistles approaching the same crossing, following signs on the side of tracks known as "whistle boards" that tell trains when to blow the horn and in what pattern.

O'Dwyer said she believes trains should blow at all crossings, public and private.

"Two longs, a short and a long. Fifteen seconds at all crossings," she said.

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