Train-truck accident kills two

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 2, 2000

DANIEL TYLER GOODEN / L’Observateur / December 2, 2000

MOONSHINE – Roger Rousseau of St. James was retiring within a year,winding down his truck-driving career with St. James Sugar Cooperative. That all ended at 7:42 a.m. Thursday, as Rousseau, 61, died when the truckhe was driving was struck by a Union Pacific passenger train enroute to New Orleans.

The impact also killed Union Pacific’s Manager of Resources and Planning Brad Welch, 42, of Omaha, Neb. A conductor was treated for minor injuries.The accident occurred after Rousseau turned off River Road to cross into a field on Richbend Crossing Road, just north of the Louisiana Highway 3215 intersection, and upriver from Oak Alley Plantation.

The dump truck Rousseau drove was filled with sludge from sugar processing. The total weight of the loaded vehicle was around 50,000pounds, said Lenny Waguespack, general manager of the St. James SugarCo-Op.

As the train struck the truck, the mud and debris exploded through two doors and into the train engine’s front cab. The mud struck Welch in theface and chest “and he was essentially buried by mud,” said John Bromley, Union Pacific public affairs officer.

The train, which was traveling at 58 mph, just below the 60-mph limit, knocked the rear axle out from under the truck and sent it hurtling into the nearby sugar cane field. The truck was knocked upside down in the fieldbehind the tracks, nearly hidden from the view from River Road.

The crossing where Rousseau was struck is in a precarious part of the track, according to St. James Parish Sheriff Willy J. Martin Jr., where only100 yards from a line of trees and along a curve of the track, visibility is a problem at the crossing.

“Turning there, you’re not getting a good look down the track,” said Martin, as there are no crossing bars or lights, but only warning signs at the crossing.

Rousseau was described as an experienced driver, having driven 18- wheelers across the country for a living. It’s hard to say what may havehappened at the crossing because “he knew to be careful,” said Waguespack.

Approximately 40 passengers, all Union Pacific employees, were on board.

The special passenger train was being used by the employees as a track inspection train, Bromley said. The group began their trip in Council Bluff,Neb. and were traveling through Texas and Louisiana. After New Orleans, the Union Pacific group planned to travel through Colorado before returning home, said Bromley. The trip was to take two tothree weeks as they drew up a budget for the next year, but now it is unknown whether the trip will be canceled, due to the accident, he added.

The train was extensively damaged and towed to Avondale for inspection.

The St. James Parish Sheriff’s Department was first on the scene with theLouisiana State Police assisting. The Union Pacific Police Department wasalso on the scene.

Louisiana ranks fifth in the country for collisions as well as injuries at railroad crossings, according to the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission. The state ranks sixth for railroad crossing fatalities.Twenty-five percent of drivers involved in railroad crossing accidents are professional drivers.

“When there’s a collision with a train, the driver is always at fault. Atrain always has the right-of-way,” said Martin.

Rousseau is survived by his wife, Gertrude, and children, Lynette Martinez and Kevin Rousseau, and five grandchildren.

Services are today at St. James Catholic Church, starting at 11 a.m.

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