Published in the August 12, 2016 edition.
By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD – A Mt. Pleasant Avenue man was seriously hurt yesterday morning when his white Ford F-150 pickup truck was struck on the passenger side by a Boston-bound commuter rail train at the Broadway crossing.
Robert Thompson, a retired Wakefield firefighter, had to be med-flighted to Mass. General Hospital. The Daily Item has learned he has some internal injuries and possibly some broken bones.
The accident happened just after 11:30 a.m. Surveillance footage taken from a building on the east side of Broadway shows Thompson’s truck crash through the down railroad gates, suggesting he may have had some sort of incident prior to the accident.
According to MBTA Transit Police, however, Thompson is suspected of driving around the gates, which is illegal and carries a $200 fine.
Thompson, 76, “would be the last person out of 100” to have driven around downed gates, according to Fire Chief Michael Sullivan. Another former colleague of Thompson’s said just about the same thing. “That’s not the Bobby Thompson I know,” the retired colleague explained.
The gates at Broadway were working properly, according to MBTA Transit Police Deputy Chief Preston Horton. The flashing lights at the crossing were also working properly, Horton said.
The train had just left the Wakefield commuter rail station at North Avenue and Albion Street and was moving at a speed of about 30 mph, Horton noted. The truck was pushed more than 100 yards down the track before the train was able to come to a stop on the banks of Crystal Lake, Horton added. Sullivan estimate the distance at closer to 200 yards.
Thompson was conscious and alert when they reached him, according to first-responders.
Sullivan said firefighters under the command of Capt. Tom Purcell quickly made contact with Thompson and checked to make sure no one else was in the truck. Ladder 1’s Jaws of Life tool was used to open up the passenger compartment of the truck to make extraction easier. Sullivan said Thompson was not trapped inside but was suffering from serious injuries. Firefighters also needed to take precautions because of his age.
“Bob’s extremely fortunate that the truck did not roll over or that the gas tank wasn’t compromised in any way,” Sullivan added. “There’s probably about 1,000 tons of equipment that hit him.”
According to Horton, the engineer immediately put on the train’s emergency brakes as soon as he saw the truck crossing the tracks. The emergency braking system puts every car into maximum braking mode, he said. Still, he stressed, with the weight of the train it takes some distance to stop.
Horton maintained that the train was operating within all established regulations.
He estimated that there were 40-50 passengers on the train. MBTA buses were brought in to pick up the Boston-bound passengers.
Horton said that MBTA investigators will check any nearby security camera footage in an effort to determine exactly what led to the crash.
Beau Douglas said that he was at the Bell Time Club Training Center next to the train tracks on Broadway when he and others in the club “heard a big bang” followed by the sound of rocks flying. When he ran out, he saw the immediate aftermath of the crash.
Thompson was taken by ambulance to Veterans’ Field where he was placed on a waiting MedFlight helicopter and flown to Mass. General Hospital in Boston.
— Bob Burgess contributed to this report.