Witness describes Amtrak train crash

MEBANE, NC An eyewitness that got stuck right behind the tractor trailer that morning is speaking out about what he says happened.

John Hudgins says it was a normal morning as he was driving with his dad on their way to the doctor's office.

Around 7:40 a.m. at the railroad crossing on 5th Street (NC-119), a flat bed truck was hauling a large excavator used for construction when it got stuck on the tracks as the crossing arms came down.

The truck driver was able to get out before the engine of Amtrak train 73 - The Piedmont - slammed into the truck.

"We were sitting two feet behind from the trailer of the truck and if we hadn't of moved the crash may have actually caused us to be in it," Hudgins said.

The 17-year-old and his dad escaped just moments before the fiery crash.

"As soon as the gates came down and we heard the train siren just siring off I deciding to back up and just go," Hudgins said.

They got away without any damage to their car and with no injuries.

Amtrak said the engine of the train and three passenger cars derailed. There were 36 passengers on board. Twelve had minor injuries. The engineer on the Amtrak train was also taken to the hospital.

North Carolina Department of Transportation investigators say the driver is to blame for the crash.

Upon impact, the truck rolled over several times and its cargo was tossed to the side as the train derailed sparking a fire.

Click here for raw video of the fire shot by a witness

Firefighters used foam to put out the blaze. The force of the crash tore down power lines, trees, and even the crossing arm equipment.

"As the train pushed the trailer along I just saw it slice down those trees as the trees just fell to the road," Hudgins said. "It feels really lucky just to be here, not even hurt."

But what they saw being up close as the crash took place is something Hudgins says no one else could see.

"What no one else saw was when the train was actually going across the tracks his wheels were slipping and sliding down that hill and that might have actually caused him to get stuck a little bit," Hudgins said.

It's a morning Hudgins says he will never forget.

"Experiencing the actual crash, nothing like that ever happens around Mebane," Hudgins said.

State DOT investigators say recent upgrades at the crossing may have changed the elevation, but posted signs should've warned the driver.

Six previous accidents have occurred at the crossing dating back to 1978, including a wreck in 2005 that killed a 78-year-old, according to records from the Federal Railroad Administration. No one was injured in the most recent accident, which occurred in February.

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