Driver says he didn’t see train
NEW CASTLE – When firefighter Austin Coryell saw the train bearing down on his firetruck with his three passengers inside, he didn’t think they were going to make it.The 20-year-old volunteer fireman for the Burning Mountains Fire Protection District was giving a ride to Ryan “Peewee” Grant, 28; his wife, Angela, 29; and their 3-year-old son, Jordon, all of Silt, when the accident occurred around 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 25.The truck left Silt and was heading east toward Coal Ridge High School, where they were going to take the truck behind the school to let Jordon play with the lights and the sirens.”But there was something going on at the school so they went on the overpass on the frontage road to where a friend lived and let him do it there, then pulled back out heading east,” said Burning Mountains Fire Chief Brit McLin.The firetruck was crossing the tracks at the south Frontage Road to U.S. Highway 6 just east of Coal Ridge High School when it was hit by the train.Coryell, who is from Silt, said his vehicle was in the middle of the train tracks before he or his passengers saw the eastbound train coming.”I looked back and forth, but I couldn’t see very far down the tracks because of the trees,” Coryell said. “No one heard any bells until the train was right there. I didn’t think we were going to make it.”Coryell stepped on the gas to get over the tracks, but the Burlington-Northern freight train hit the rear of the firetruck, causing it to spin 180 degrees counter-clockwise, when it was struck a second time and then rolled one-quarter time into a ditch, coming to rest on its left side north of the railroad tracks, according to the Colorado State Patrol. As the firetruck slid into a ditch, it hit a power pole, which partially crushed the cab of the truck.
“I shut the engine off and tried to use the radio to contact dispatch, but it didn’t work,” Coryell said. “We all climbed out of the (broken) windshield.”Calls to Burlington-Northern seeking comment about the accident were not returned by press time.Not a joyridePassenger Angela Grant said that no one in the truck had seen the train before it struck them, and a CSP report that Coryell was trying to “beat the train across the tracks” is untrue.”We were driving across in the middle of the tracks when the train conductor laid on his horn,” Grant recalled. “We all had our windows down and none of us heard the (train) dingers. Austin hit the gas and if he hadn’t, we wouldn’t be here talking to you right now.”Following the impact, Grant immediately looked at her son, who was not hurt.”He was kind of whimpering, but he was not crying,” Grant said. “He said, ‘Mommy, the choo-choo just crashed us.’ But not one of us saw it or heard it before it hit.”The child was not in a car seat because it would not fit in the truck with the oxygen tanks, but everyone inside the truck had their seat belts fastened.
She stressed that the firetruck ride was not an irresponsible act by either the family or Coryell.”I want people to know that we were trying to do something fun for my son – we were not joy-riding,” Grant stressed. “There was permission granted and it wasn’t an irresponsible act – Austin was trying to do a good thing for my son.”According to McLin, the fire department has a policy of allowing community rides on the firetrucks with prior permission, which Coryell had.”We often do things like this for little kids’ birthdays,” said McLin. “It’s part of our community outreach. It’s something we do for our volunteers since we don’t pay them.”Policy to be reviewedFollowing this incident, McLin said the policy of allowing the community rides may be reviewed in the future.”The community paid for these trucks, although they don’t get to play with them,” he said. “We do these drives as part of community outreach. But they are absolutely not authorized to go joy-riding and we do tell the passengers there is no jack-assing around while in the truck. There is no drinking allowed of any kind and nobody is allowed to drive the truck except the firefighter.”McLin intends to have the Aspen Fire Department conduct an independent investigation of the accident.
“I’m going to ask them to find causation and make recommendations, look at the training records and personnel files,” McLin said.Coryell received a careless driving ticket from the accident from the CSP, but McLin said no disciplinary action will be taken against him from the fire department. Coryell has been a volunteer firefighter with the department for about one year, McLin said.”There were no intentional actions,” McLin said. “This kid did not want to get hit by a train on purpose. Do we perhaps need to do more driver training? Absolutely. We will be elevating our level of professionalism. But there were no rules broken.”According to the CSP, no alcohol or drugs were believed to be involved in the accident.Truck loss won’t hurt serviceAlthough the firetruck is deemed a total loss, McLin said it won’t hinder the department’s ability to provide service to the Burning Mountains Fire Protection District, which covers about 440 square miles between Silt and New Castle.”The insurance adjuster hasn’t been out yet, but the truck is mashed,” McLin said. “This is obviously going to affect us, but it will not affect our ability to provide services. It’s not a critical piece of equipment.”The firetruck was purchased by the district in 2000 for a cost of $220,000 and is expected to cost between $260,000 and $270,000 to replace.
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