The Times Reporter

February 13, 2006

By: NANCY SCHAAR, T-R Staff Correspondent

MECHANICSTOWN - Ryan Moore was only 16 years old when he died March 25, 1995, at a railroad crossing on Deerfield Ave. near the Wayne and Stark County border.

He and five other teenagers were in a car that was hit by a train. According to the teens who survived, the crossing wasn't marked. There were no crossing gates, lights or signals. Trees, brush and foliage blocked visibility. The teens said they listened, and the driver inched forward in an attempt to see if it was safe to cross, but they never saw the train that hit the car.

According to the railroad's official report, the train was traveling about 60 mph. Crossbucks were the only warning of the crossing.

Moore's parents, Denny and Vicky Moore of Mechanicstown, said five of the six teenagers were thrown from the car by the impact.

Three - Moore; Joshua White, 17; and Alyson Ley, 16 - were killed instantly.

Three others - Jason Moore, 18; Rebecca White, 16; and Jennifer Helms, 15 - were sitting in the front seat and were critically injured.

Vicky Moore remembers that beautiful, spring afternoon.

"The smell, I remember the smell. It smelled like it had just rained - that fresh, spring smell. Every time I smell that, it takes me back to that day," she said.

Vicky and Denny Moore said they weren't interested in litigation against the railroad, but they were pulled into civil action. The railroad was found to be at fault, and the Ohio Supreme Court refused to hear the railroad's appeal.

The Moore family was awarded $5.4 million after attorney's fees. The White family was awarded $1 million in punitive damages. The Ley and Helms families settled out of court.

The Moores said every cent of their award went into an account to create Angels on Track, a non-profit organization formed in 1997 to identify the most dangerous railroad crossings in Ohio and to assist in the installation of safety devices.

Angels on Track works with counties to set up task forces, but the projects can be difficult because of state, highway department and railroad procedures.

The Moores have been to more than 20 counties so far to set up task forces, but only about five still are active. Once a task force has been established, members set up a database, take photos of crossings to show the obstructions and prioritize the crossings in a given county. Task force members determine which crossings are the most dangerous and what is needed to correct them.

If a task force is established in a county, Angels on Track will match local highway authority funds up to $40,000 to correct problems.

The task force applies to the state, and the process continues through the Public Utilities Commission. About 90 percent of the safety devices' cost is paid through local highway authorities, and railroads make a 10 percent voluntary contribution toward the cost. Taxpayers foot most of the bill to provide railroad crossing safety devices.

So far, Angels on Track have helped to install 14 sets of gates at a cost of about $400,000.

Angels on Track also provide public service announcements, billboards and have established an educational subsidiary, Crossing to Safety.

The Moores recently were asked to testify before the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Railroad Sub-Committee.

"The rules need to change," Vicky Moore said. "The laws need to change. There are no federal laws pertaining to sight distance clearance for public safety. The railroads are responsible for clearing vegetation from their right of way, 600 feet in both directions on every public road in the state of Ohio. They're just words on paper because it's not enforced, and it's not done, and lives are lost almost every day. Every year, an average of 300 people are killed at railroad crossings in the United States. That's almost one every day of every year. Something has to be done."

Vicky Moore said only 25 percent of railroad crossings in the country are gated, and there is no uniformity in crossing protection or federal regulations.

The Moores recently hand-delivered information about the problem to all Ohio legislators. Only three out of about 100 have responded.

"Ryan's accident didn't have to happen," Vicky Moore said. "It could have been prevented with crossing gates. ... We're just not taking no for an answer. We're doing this for Ryan. This was our son."

Denny and Vicky Moore recently were interviewed by a film crew from NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams about their work. Producer Patrice Fletcher set up the interview and filming. The air date is undecided.

"This is a national problem, and it needs national attention. This situation, this tragedy is fixable," Vicky Moore said.

Eight months after the deaths of the three teenagers, gates were installed at the Deerfield Ave. crossing.

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