Residents React to Fatal Accident on Train Tracks

Some are saying Sunday's death of a 21-year-old is a tragic reminder that gates are needed at Redding's railroad crossing.

While the investigation into the cause of Sunday's train accident that claimed the life of a 21-year-old Danbury man continues, people in West Redding are beginning to talk about what they say is a tragic reminder that a gate is needed at the railroad crossing.

On Monday afternoon, a steady stream of residents pulled into the Post Office building which faces the intersection where a Metro-North train struck a Subaru at about 1:20 p.m. a day earlier. It's the center of West Redding, at the intersection of Simpaug Turnpike and Long Ridge Road, with a small business district in this normally quiet neighborhood.

On Sunday, sirens broke the serenity as emergency crews responded to the crash, which killed Wayne Balacky, a passenger, and left the driver and two other passengers in the hospital with critical injuries. Train service on the Danbury line was suspended till about 8 p.m. that night while investigators remained on scene. Bus service from Norwalk was set up in its place, and at least one resident and his wife were forced to take it back home on Sunday evening.

Redding resident George Venning was in his living room at the time of the crash and when he heard the prolonged sound of an engine he said he knew something wasn't right. Venning's house is about 200 feet from the railroad crossing and he has lived there all 82 years of his life.

He looked out his window, saw the sirens, and walked outside to find out what was going on.

"It's a sad thing," Venning said.

MTA Police, the lead investigators on the case, said the flashing lights at the intersection were functioning properly at the time of the crash. But there is no gate that drops down when a train passes.

"It definitely should have been put there a long time ago," Venning said.

According to Mike Vasale, a Danbury resident who works at Lombardi Pizza in West Redding center, the intersection had gates at one time, but they were apparently removed after repeatedly malfunctioning — they would go up and down randomly and police often had to come out and manually lift them, Vasale said. MTA Police weren't immediately available to confirm this.

Vasale, 27, has been working at Lombardi's for about 12 years and he said the accident is at least the second one he's seen at the crossing during that time.

"It's a sad thing that happened," he said.

Leon Karvelis January 02, 2013 at 10:23 PM
Metro-North should move the gates that are serving no purpose going up and down behind a fence on Church Street in Georgetown, where the Danbury line runs behind the Nissan dealer, to West Redding where a life could have been saved. It is irresponsible of the transit agency to fail in protecting motorists on a fairly active grade crossing. Leon Karvelis
Jaimie Cura January 02, 2013 at 11:47 PM
Weston-Redding-Easton Facebook fans weighed in too: Melissa Butcaris Johnson: yes gates need to be installed! Ben Hume: I [think] the stop signs just before the crossing, plus the loud ringing bell, plus the flashing lights, plus the train blowing it's whistle, plus the fact that the crossing has been there well over a hundred years is enough. When you are driving a car it is imperative that you pay attention. Danger lurks around every corner. Mike Cordelli: It's hard to imagine in the bells, the train horn, the flashing lights, the passengers probably screaming didn't stop the driver that a gate would have done much better. There were gates at the Camp Ave accident last year, and there were Gates in Glen Rock NJ a few years ago, but in those cases, the drivers stopped on the Metro North tracks before the gates came down or tried to drive around them to cross (New Jersey). Except when a train goes off the tracks like New Canaan a short time ago, it's impossible to imagine a scenario where a car gets hit and it's not the driver of the car who is at fault. https://www.facebook.com/WestonReddingEastonPatch
Mrs. P. Booth January 03, 2013 at 11:52 PM
I live close to where the accident occurred, and cross that intersection on a daily basis. Although I feel sorry for the injuries and the life lost, the IS a stop sign, there ARE crossing lights and bells that were functioning properly, the train conductor ALWAYS blows the horn at that crossing, and apparently the driver chose to ignore the multiple warnings. I regularly see drivers try to beat the trains at that stop, and when playing Russian Roulette with car vs. train the car always loses! Even when there was a gate at that crossing, I would see drivers go around it. I agree with Mr. Godfrey. The MTA is NOT responsible for the poor choice made by the driver.
john b January 07, 2013 at 09:45 PM
The driver of the car was stupid, his stupidity cost the lives of his friends. He and only he, is responsible. End of story.


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