Residents want changes at fatal train crossing

Brothers 9-year-old Calvin Brandon and 6-year-old Hassan Bingham

December 11, 2009 5:20:07 AM PST
The mother of two boys survived a deadly collision Wednesday afternoon with an Amtrak train, but her sons did not. Now, residents are calling for a safer railroad crossing.

Authorities released surveillance video that shows the deadly collision. The footage shows cars turning from Ellis Road onto Angier Avenue in Durham. The warning lights are up and cars are still stopped on the tracks.

Then an Amtrak train carrying 129 people slams into a white Ford Explorer. "She was basically stuck on the tracks while the train was coming," eyewitness Trae told ABC11 Eyewitness News.

Witnesses say the car was stuck in traffic and was boxed in as the crossing gates came down.

"Everybody was jumping out of their cars, running over there to assist her, to help her get out," Trae explained.

Thursday, police released the 911 call received right after the accident.

"Someone just got hit by a train near East Pettigrew," said a witness to the 911 operator. "I'm standing outside and I'm not sure if everyone is okay in the car. They just got hit by the Amtrak.

Durham police confirm the driver of the SUV, Deborah Peaks Bingham, was stuck on the tracks in traffic as the warning lights and arms came down.

Her children, 9-year-old Calvin Brandon and 6-year-old Hassan Bingham, were thrown from the vehicle and died at the scene. Deborah Bingham was taken to the hospital and is being treated for non life-threatening injuries. No one on the train was injured.

The children were not restrained when the train hit their SUV, but it is unclear if they unbuckled their seat belts in an attempt to get out of the vehicle.

"The guardrails that came down when she was trying to get through and she tried to back up but she couldn't because she was blocked," said a witness to the 911 operator. "She couldn't. She was forced to just stay there and the train hit her."

Residents familiar with the intersection say it needs to be safer.

"This is a problem we have going on every day in the mornings and afternoon," Trae said.

The crash marks the 11th at that crossing since 1975, the third death. It's why investigators returned to the scene Thursday.

"We taking a hard look at what we need to do at that location," said Paul Worley with NC DOT Rail Safety.

There are already signs posted that say, "Do Not Stop On Tracks" and "Stop Here When Flashing."

The state won't find out if it has received a federal grant until next year, but funds would be used to build an overpass at the intersection.

Police have not filed charges in the case, but it remains under investigation.

The brothers were students at Spring Valley Elementary School in Durham. Calvin was a fourth grader and Hasan was in kindergarten. Grief counselors were at the school Thursday.

Principal Sylvia Bittle released the following statement:

"There are no words to describe the loss and sorrow being felt at Spring Valley today. Calvin and Hassan were very bright, spirited children who were very well-liked by their classmates. They touched the hearts of their teachers and me. They were hard-working, high-achieving students, and they will be greatly missed. We share in their family's grief, and our thoughts are with them."

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