WARNER ROBINS — Keith Roquemore of Byron said he was working under the hood of a van and talking to a friend on his cell phone when he heard a train and saw a man walking near the tracks along Ga. 247 between Watson Boulevard and Green Street.
The man, who was later identified as Terry Keith Jackson, 38, of Warner Robins, was struck and killed by a southbound Norfolk Southern train about 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, Houston County sheriff’s Capt. Robert Clark said.
Roquemore, who holds down two jobs, was working at his father’s shop, John’s Garage, at 408 N. First St. The tracks run parallel between First Street and Ga. 247.
Roquemore said he saw Jackson just a few minutes earlier walking toward the tracks while he was working on the van in front of the shop. He didn’t know Jackson but had seen him walking through the area. The man “always looked like he was in a world of his own,” he said.
Roquemore said he was wishing a friend happy birthday over the cell phone when he heard the train approaching and told her they’d better hang up before the noise drowned out their conversation.
He next ran into the shop to get something and came back outside.
It was then, Roquemore said, that he looked up and saw Jackson dangerously near the tracks on the gravel railroad bed.
The approaching train was sounding its horn, Roquemore said.
“Hey man, you all right out there?” Roquemore said he shouted to Jackson. “The train’s coming! You all right?”
Roquemore said he anxiously looked back at the train and then back toward Jackson.
Roquemore said his eyes fixed on a bundle — maybe a blanket or a jacket Jackson had his hand — that was hurled into the air.
“It happened so fast,” Roquemore said. “He was just gone.”
Roquemore said he thought maybe Jackson had made it to the other side or had run down into the ditch, having thrown something at the train.
“Not at one time did I want to believe he got hit,” Roquemore said.
A few minutes later, law enforcement officers arrived in search of Jackson. His body was found face down a few feet from the tracks, Roquemore said.
The train’s engineer had radioed the train dispatcher that a man had been struck by the train, and the dispatcher notified authorities, said Susan Terpey, Norfolk Southern spokeswoman.
The engineer told authorities that as the train was approaching, Jackson began to move away, then turned and walked into the train, Clark said. The train was sounding its horns and bells, Terpey said.
The engineer also applied emergency brakes and brought the train to a stop, but the distance it takes to stop a moving train can range from a half mile to 1.5 miles depending on tonnage being hauled and track speed, Terpey said.
The track speed along that stretch of railroad is 30 miles per hour, Terpey said. The locomotive was pulling three rail cars.
Authorities do not know why Jackson was so close to the tracks, Clark said.
Preliminary autopsy results indicated Jackson’s death was from trauma consistent with being struck by a train, according to a Houston County sheriff’s news release.
Finalization of the autopsy is pending toxicology results from a GBI crime lab.
John Roquemore, who owns the garage shop he opened in 1971, said Jackson often walked through the area and would come and sit and talk with him.
“He was always talking about the Bible,” Roquemore said.
To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.