Attempt to Beat Train in Mich. Ends 5 Young Lives
On summer day filled with beach plans, 5 young people die in attempt to beat train in Mich.
By DAVID RUNK
The Associated Press
CANTON TOWNSHIP, Mich.
Fourteen-year-old Jessica Sadler wanted to go to the beach with her boyfriend on a warm summer day, but her mother said no, absolutely not. She had better come home or she would be in big trouble.
Jessica never made it home.
She and the four young men with her in a car were killed Thursday when the driver — a 19-year-old with a suspended license — sped around a lowered railroad crossing gate and past the flashing warning lights in an attempt to beat a train. The car was broadsided.
Tammy Sadler, who had been mad at her daughter for spending the night at a friend's house without calling to tell her, recalled her final conversation with Jessica, less than an hour before the wreck.
"She asked me what I was doing. I told her I was watching TV, told her she was going to be in trouble for not being here. She said, `Can I go to the beach?' I said no," Sadler said Friday, her voice breaking. "She said, `We'll just grab a bite to eat, then I'll be home,' and I said, `OK.' ... She didn't make it."
On a surveillance video released by police, the car never slowed as it approached the crossing about 20 miles west of Detroit. It drove right past a stopped SUV, just before the Amtrak train rushed through around 12:30 p.m.
Canton Township police awaited toxicology tests on the driver and the other victims, but spokesman Sgt. Mark Gajeski said: "There is no indication alcohol or anything else was involved other than bad judgment."
The young man behind the wheel, Dan Broughton, had a number of traffic violations on his record, including speeding and running a stop sign. His license had been suspended a day before the wreck for driving without carrying a license back in April.
Broughton's mother, Donna Broughton, told Detroit's WDIV-TV on Friday that she doesn't know "why he would think he could make it across."
"I'm sorry, and I feel the tragedy. And I wish I could tell them in person that I loved their kids," she said. "They were here all the time."
Friends and community members also wondered why Broughton didn't wait for the train to pass. But Barry M. Sweedler, a former senior director of the National Transportation Safety Board, said younger drivers are more likely to do foolish things when other young people are in the car.
"The evidence is very clear: The more young passengers, the higher the risk," Sweedler said.
Police and family members said the others killed were Eddie Gross, 17, of suburban Taylor; Sean Harris, 19, of Taylor and Detroit; and Harris' brother Terrence, 21, of Stafford, Va. Sadler, Gross and Sean Harris had attended high school together in the Detroit suburb of Taylor, and Sadler and Gross had been dating.
Sadler's family was moving to Wyandotte, a suburb southwest of Detroit, and was staying with relatives. The young people were heading toward that home, just blocks from the railroad crossing, when they were killed.
Tammy Sadler said her daughter wanted to be a veterinarian or work with newborns, and "was everybody's best friend — always happy."
Near a crash-site memorial consisting of flowers, farewell notes and a photo, 20-year-old Jake Bulmer said Friday that he had ridden a few times with Broughton.
"Not a reckless driver," Bulmer said. "He just didn't think all the time."
Phyllis Harris, the Harris brothers' grandmother, said she had warned Sean on Wednesday night not to get into a car with Broughton because they had gotten pulled over by police before.
Grief counseling was planned for Saturday at the victims' high school. And employees at a Kroger supermarket collected money in memory of their co-worker Broughton, who had just been promoted from bagger to stocker.
Police said the train, which was carrying about 170 people, typically travels 67 mph at the site of the crash. It slammed into Broughton's Ford Fusion and pushed it about a mile down the tracks. Police said the train was traveling within the speed limit.
No one aboard was injured.
Associated Press Writers David N. Goodman in Woodhaven, Ben Leubsdorf in Canton Township, Corey Williams and Jeff Karoub in Detroit, David Eggert in Lansing and Nomaan Merchant in Minneapolis contributed to this story. David Runk reported from Detroit.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Five Die in Attempt to Beat Mich. Train
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