As Elton mourns railroad tragedy, collisions remain high - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

As Elton mourns railroad tragedy, collisions remain high

by Brandon Richards bio | email

ELTON, LA (KPLC-TV) – As the town of Elton mourns the loss of one of its own, 19-year-old Joshua Bertrand, who died after the pickup truck he was driving collided with a Union Pacific train, the number of railroad accidents and injuries in Louisiana remains high, especially when compared to the rest of the nation.

According to the non-profit group Operation Life Saver, whose primary mission is to educate the public about railroad and train safety, in the last five years, there have been 593 railroad crossing incidents, which caused 259 injuries and 68 deaths. In 2009, 11 people lost their lives in these types of incidents, making Louisiana sixth in the country for the number of train-related accidents and collisions.

Half of all railroad crossing collisions in the U.S. occur at highway-rail intersections with lights and gates. That means many drivers, for whatever reason, fail to yield to passing trains.

"If people are paying attention and always looking for a train, then we can hopefully bring that fatality rate down," said Sgt. James Anderson, with the Louisiana State Police.

The investigation continues into what exactly happened prior to the incident in Elton on Saturday, which is being handled by the Jefferson Davis Sheriff's Office and the Union Pacific Railroad Police.

Meanwhile, many in the community continue to mourn the loss of Bertrand, who was set to start classes at McNeese State University this fall.

"There's really like a sad mood over Elton right now because of this whole tragedy," said Andrea Fontenot, who lives in neighboring Basile, but works in the heart of downtown Elton at the town's only grocery store.

Fontenot, who knew Bertrand after attending several years of athletic events with him, said Saturday's horrific tragedy was on the minds of nearly everyone visiting the store on Sunday.

"He was a wonderful, wonderful guy and it's really tragic that something so bad can happen to someone so good and so young," said Fontenot, before giving a message to Bertrand's family. "I want them to know that they are definitely in my thoughts and prayers, as well as in many other people's [thoughts] in the area and we'll be praying for them."

Copyright 2010 KPLC-TV.  All Rights Reserved.

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