Union Pacific stonewalls over New Castle train fatality incident report

A bench dedicated to Lisa Detweiler in front of Defiance Church in Glenwood Springs.
Merle Detweiler/Courtesy

Merle Detweiler says he just wants closure.

The New Castle resident lost his wife, Lisa, after she was fatally struck by a Union Pacific train on Nov. 10, 2022. The incident occurred at the intersection of the UP tracks and Kamm Avenue in downtown New Castle.

Detweiler, however, recently reported to the Post Independent that UP is withholding specific information over Lisa’s death, despite being told about five weeks ago there are conductor and engineer incident reports from that day.

“I contacted UP in Denver. They told me they have a report from the engineer and conductor but they’re not required to give the report,” Merle said. “I’m her husband. I think I’d have a right to know.”

Lisa Detweiler was 47 when she died. A longtime librarian at the New Castle Branch Library, an outpouring of support and dedications to Lisa sprung from the community after her death.

The New Castle library recently put up a display of Lisa on the anniversary of her death, Merle said. The library now also awards what’s called the Lisa Detweiler Community Service Award to first responders or nonprofit representatives.

Meanwhile, Defiance Church in Glenwood Springs dedicated a bench in Lisa’s name in front of its building.

Union Pacific spokesperson Mike Jackson told the PI this week that, regarding Lisa’s death, “We don’t disclose a lot of information on these types of things.”

“That’s not information we have,” Jackson said. “We don’t expect any more information to come out.”

Instead, Jackson cited the chronological order of events that occurred on Nov. 10 and that Lisa died during the incident.

“I will say that public safety is an area of concern and focus for all railroads. We are constantly urging the public to exercise caution around the railroad tracks and to be safe,” Jackson said, adding that the UP constantly sends out reminders for people to stay safe along railroad tracks. “A train can take up to a mile to stop — that’s common. Trains can’t stop. You can.”

A tribute to Lisa Detweiler at the New Castle Branch Library.
Merle Detweiler/Courtesy

The Garfield County Coroner’s Office contract forensic pathologist performed an autopsy on Lisa and determined the cause of death was multiple blunt force injuries, the coroner’s report states.   

New Castle Police Chief Chuck Burrows said on Thursday that he was on duty the day Lisa died, but that the NCPD does not have an open investigation on the matter.

“We were told very quickly since there was a fatality and it involved a UP train, it was not our jurisdiction,” he said.

Burrows also said the police department has not received any incident report from UP.

“To leave (Merle) in the dark like that? The man just really wants some answers,” Burrows said. “I think it’s incredibly sad.”

The rail line that travels through New Castle sits in what many consider to be a precarious spot in town. It goes straight through the heart of downtown, directly south of Main Street and north of the Colorado River.

UP freight trains, Amtrak and Rocky Mountaineer all use the line. There is also a highly conscientious effort to dramatically increase freight of waxy crude oil — called the Uinta Basin Railway — from Utah to oil refineries in the Gulf region using this very line.

The city of New Castle responded by looking to reduce the speed of trains going through town. The Garfield County Commission, despite openly supporting the Uinta Basin Railway proposal, signed a letter of support devised by New Castle in early spring to reduce train speeds.

“It’s still the railroad,” New Castle Town Council Member Caitlin Carey said. “When I approached the commission about signing on to slow down trains, the sense I got from them was, ‘Good luck with that.'”

Carey said she’s simply trying to help get answers for Merle.

“I think there’s headway to be made,” she said. “But I honestly don’t know where we go from here unless we got a big gun in.”

Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario has also talked to Merle and a New Castle Town Council member about encouraging UP to release information.

Vallario said he has not heard if this effort has had any success yet, adding that, “As you know, railroads are very powerful.”

“I think it’s awful,” he said. “I’m assuming that it couldn’t even be some sort of insurance issue that we can’t resolve or anything like that.”

For Merle, he emphasizes that he just wants more answers.

“All I want to know is whatever the railroad knows,” he said.

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