KATC Investigates

Jun 27, 2013 12:08 AM by Erin Steuber

Investigation: Train Accidents at Cade Crossing

The railroad tracks are open after a fiery crash that killed a St. Martin Parish woman. The intersection closed for almost 8 hours after an Amtrak train, headed from New Orleans to Los Angeles, hit a van that didn't completely cross the tracks.

Based on her license, State Troopers have identified the victim as 51-year-old Cassandra Papillion of St. Martinville. But her family tells KATC she went by Cassandra Andrews, since her divorce. Troopers say she was sitting on the railroad track when the crossing arms came down in front, and behind her. Troopers say the train hit the back of Andrew's vehicle, which caused it to catch fire. Troopers say the warning devices, the lights, bells and gates, we're operating properly.

None of the 125 passengers aboard the train were injured in the crash, but an Amtrak crew member did suffer minor injuries. And we're told Andrew couldn't get off the tracks because the arms were already down and cars in front, and behind her, were blocking her in.

"Some of the guys say the lady was screaming, asking them to help her, but they couldn't get her out, couldn't get her out. It was too late," said Beverly Perro.

"The van blew up, caught on fire. So the guys that pulled up at the same time they jumped out of their vehicle and went to try to assist her, to pull her out, but the fire was too hot," said Nolan Broussard.

We've been digging more into the intersection where the crash occurred.

According to the Federal Railroad Administration, an estimated 2,400 vehicles cross over the tracks at LA 92 and 182 each day. The speed limit for the train is 70 miles per hour. And over the past ten years there have been three accidents at the intersection. No one was injured in the 2007, 2009 or 2012 accidents.

However in February 2012, another Amtrak train traveling the same route, Sunset Limited, clipped a pickup truck in New Iberia. As a result, two people were injured. Then, in March of this year, an Amtrak train on the Sunset Limited struck an abandoned vehicle on Highway 88 in New Iberia.

The Cade crossing location where Wednesday's accident happened has flashing lights, gates and bells. Witnesses tell us all of those were working, but the gates didn't go down until after the driver was nearly over the tracks.

That fatal crash caused delays for travelers on, and waiting for the train at the Lafayette Amtrak station. More than 20 people were waiting at the station for nearly 8 hours, some heading to Lake Charles, others heading as far as California. All day they sat waiting and were told the train would be arriving at any time.

"What do we do? Is the train ever going come? Or do we need to make other arrangements to get to where were going," said Johnica Hebert.

But at around 7 o'clock frustration quickly turned to joy as the train finally made it down the tracks. And the 125 passengers that were on board finally had the chance to get off the train, many saying they will never ride a train again.

"The smoke started coming into our car so we had to move, they evacuated us to the next car," said Jonnae Norals. "We didn't feel any impact until the whole train stopped and everybody moved up fast."

An Amtrak employee working on the train said Wednesday's accident was one of the worst he's ever seen. Amtrak says the train did suffer some engine damage but it was not enough to cancel the trip.

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