The Towpath

Saturday, October 20, 2001

By: Brigette Barnes -- Towpath Writer

More than six years after a tragic accident claimed their son at a local railroad crossing, Dennis and Vicky Moore continue to fight for safer crossings in Ohio.

The Canal Fulton couple started the Angels on Track Foundation in 1997 after the Ohio Supreme Court awarded the Moores $8 million in punitive damages in a lawsuit over their son's death.

Their son, Ryan, 16, was killed March 25, 1995. The car Ryan, his brother, and four friends were in was hit on Deerfield Avenue Northwest by a Conrail freight train estimated to be traveling approximately 60mph. Three survived, but three, including Ryan, were killed in the collision.

"We put all of it (the money) into the foundation," Vicky Moore said. "There was nothing we could buy that would bring us happiness because that money represented my son's death."

Vicky said she and her husband realized during the court proceedings why their son had died.

"There is not enough attention given to railroad grade crossings," she said. "We are trying to get people to see the other side of the story -- not all railroad grade crossing accidents are caused by driver error. That's not to say that drivers don't make mistakes. But they usually make mistakes because they don't have enough information at the crossing or they don't have gates and lights to protect them. To blame the driver for all accidents is misinformation and not true."

Vicky explained that Deerfield Avenue, located on the Stark-Wayne border had been the location of seven collisions resulting in eight deaths since 1975.

At the time, the Ohio Public Utilities Commission had labeled Deerfield Avenue as the most dangerous crossing according to its priority list.

While the state of Ohio, county and local highway authorities had prior knowledge of previous deaths and injuries, this crossing was marked with only an informational railroad crossing sign. There were no advance active warning devices, such as gates and lights, to warn a motorist of an oncoming train.

In the course of their trial, Vicky said she discovered the lack of concern for dangerous rail/highway grade crossings by the railroad industry and local highway authorities.

"It only becomes a "priority" after someone is killed or injured," she said. "The railroads own the black boxes in the front of the engine and they are the only ones with the equipment to retrieve the tapes. In our case and many others, those tapes mysteriously disappeared."

So the Moores decided to find a way to change the procedure, red tape and bureaucracy involved in funding these dangerous railroad and highway grade crossings with adequate active warning devices to save lives and correct the problem, they believe, caused the death of their son.

The Angels on Track Foundation awards reimbursement grants to local highway authorities for railroad grade crossing safety upgrades representing up to 30 percent of the public share under the state funded program, not to exceed $40,000 for each upgrade project.

A requirement for possible grant funding is the establishment of an active, functioning, county railroad safety task force to identify and locally prioritize all grade crossings for safety, and to be proactive in identifying and applying solutions to these problem crossings utilizing funds from all available sources.

Since its inception, the foundation has approved six crossings, paid for five and have five or six applications pending. They funded three upgrades in Wayne County for a total of $61,569; one crossing in Delaware County for $40,000; and Forty Corner Road in Stark County for $23,083.

The foundation also has approved a reimbursement grant for the Fohl-Wooster Road crossing in Navarre.

"We want to save lives," said Vicky. "We do not feel the current education programs are giving the complete information or complete story. Crossing conditions, sight obstructions, lack of protection devices, malfunctioning safety equipment, railroads not following safety procedures -- these are all contributing factors to railroad grade crossing accidents, not just driver error."

The foundation also produced a railroad safety film last year titled "Without Warning." It is available from the foundation for a $5 shipping charge.

"There's a lot of things that need to be changed in Ohio and across the country," Vicky said. "Only 20 percent of crossings have gates and lights in the U.S."

Anyone wanting to contribute to The Angels on Track Foundation can send a check or money order to: The Angels on Track Foundation, 122376 Chestnut Street, N.W., Canal Fulton, Ohio 44614. Donations of $25 or more will be sent an angel pin as a thank-you for the support.


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