1 critically hurt in LRT crash

  • Article by: VINCE TUSS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 4, 2009 - 7:21 AM

Witnesses said a light-rail train hit a car in south Minneapolis after the 22-year-old driver went around a crossing arm.

A man was critically hurt Monday afternoon when the car he was driving and a light-rail train crashed in Minneapolis, Metro Transit said.

Witnesses told police that the driver had gone around a crossing arm, Metro Transit spokesman Bob Gibbons said.

The crash happened about 3:40 p.m. near E. 35th Street and Hiawatha Avenue as the car and train were headed south, Gibbons said. The car, a 1995 Honda, was turning right from Hiawatha to 35th Street when the train hit the passenger side of the vehicle, Gibbons said.

One train passenger described seeing blood on the man and on a headrest after the crash. He and other witnesses said the car was pushed about 200 feet.

No one else was in the car, Gibbons said, and the man was taken to Hennepin County Medical Center. "The injuries appeared serious to those at the scene," he said.

A man with the name of the 22-year-old registered as the Honda's owner remained in critical condition this morning  at the medical center.

No one on the train was hurt, Gibbons said.

Ronald Johnson was one of about 100 people on the train at the time of the crash. He said the train came to a screeching halt but he didn't know why.

Only when he saw people jumping out of their cars on Hiawatha and running to help did he see the mangled car up ahead. He said the man appeared lifeless and bloody, with more blood on the car's headrest.

"At first, I thought it came from the other direction because I thought there was no way it could be dragged that much," said Johnson, who had just left work and was headed to the Mall of America in Bloomington.

The aftermath of the accident had traffic on Hiawatha tied up in both directions during the evening rush hour.

Train service was stopped for more than two hours in south Minneapolis, with buses running between the Franklin Avenue and Fort Snelling stations, Gibbons said.

Service was restored at 6:05 p.m., Gibbons said, but trains were running at reduced speed in the area of the crash as crews worked to repair a signal box destroyed in the crash.

The train's driver will be tested for drugs and alcohol, which is standard in Metro Transit crashes, Gibbons said. Information will also be downloaded from devices in a nearby signal bungalow and the train recorder, he said. Inspections of the train car, track and overhead power supply also were planned.

In the five years of the Hiawatha light-rail line, five people have died in crashes, with none of the deaths on a train.

The only one to involve a car was in September 2004, when an 87-year-old man who drove under the crossing arms at E. 42nd Street died after his sedan was struck by a train.

The most recent was in November 2007, when a man on foot was hit and killed at the 46th Street station.

That time without a death "shows that people are becoming more accustomed to coexisting with the light-rail line," Gibbons said.

In 2007, the most recent year with available information, the Hiawatha line reported 52 accidents per 10 million miles traveled. Nationally, 149 accidents were reported for every 10 million miles traveled.

Staff writers Jim Foti and McKenna Ewen contributed to this report. Vince Tuss • 612-673-7692

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