WARNER ROBINS -- Four men walked away after a train struck a car early Friday at Ignico Drive near Ga. 247.
“They’re all walking and talking -- just looking a little dazed and shook up,” said Houston County sheriff’s Sgt. Kenneth Beck, who was at the crash site.
The crash happened about 8:34 a.m., Beck said.
According to witnesses, the driver pulled the Cadillac across the tracks when he looked up and realized the train was about 30 to 40 yards from striking the vehicle, Beck said.
“He just looked at the train and froze,” Beck said.
The train hit the car at the front tire, striking the engine compartment, which is probably what saved the lives of those inside the car, Beck said.
The train knocked the car off the tracks “like a baseball bat striking a ball,” Beck said.
The impact spun the car around, with the car striking the railroad signal. The car came to rest in a ditch east of the railroad crossing.
Norfolk Southern Railroad Police were on site Friday morning investigating the site, as well as railroad personnel who were fixing the dented signal. Beck said the signal’s bell rang the entire time sheriff’s deputies were working the crash.
No one was seriously hurt when the westbound car was struck by the northbound train, and the men inside the car were transported to Houston Medical Center as a precaution to be checked out, Beck said.
“They were shook up real bad,” Beck said.
Beck was unsure of their nationality. Arriving family members worked with sheriff’s deputies to translate and get statements from the men as Houston Healthcare emergency medical workers checked out the four and readied them for transport to the hospital, said Houston County sheriff’s deputy Derek Foster.
The men in the car were identified as driver Abera Oukbaziher, 32, whose license listed a Clarkston address; Tekleweini Okubamichael, 25, and Tekle Woldegiorgis, 29, no address immediately available; and Zeria Gebrehiwet Sbhatus, 47, who had an Ignico Drive address in Warner Robins, Foster said.
“When it came over the (police) radio, we expected it to be bad,” said Foster, who investigated the crash. “Very seldom is there a vehicle versus a train and anybody walks away.”
Beck said he thinks that perhaps the men were on their way to pick up someone for work because of the hard hats and rain boots found in the mangled car. That type of gear is generally used in construction work and also worn by some employees at Perdue Farms, a chicken processing plant in the south end of the county, he said.
In the 13 years Beck has been at the sheriff’s office in which he has worked wrecks at the Ignico Drive train tracks at Ga. 247, only one or two of the crashes did not include a fatality, Beck said.
“This is probably the third one,” Beck said. “They were lucky.”
He said there have been numerous train-vehicle crashes at that crossing through the years. The crossing, which does not have a crossing bar, has a flashing light and a bell that is activated when a train comes through, Beck said.
“The bell was ringing and the light was flashing when we arrived on scene,” Beck said. “So we know that the signal worked.”
Despite a working flashing light and bell when a train approaches, for whatever reason, Beck said, “the general public ... drives through and there’s a train.”