An 18-year-old Lakeland High School student was listed in critical condition Wednesday after he pulled his vehicle in front of an oncoming train in downtown Rathdrum.
Chet Savage, an honor roll student and athlete, was in his Ford Bronco about 8:25 a.m. Wednesday when the train and vehicle collided.
Although Savage was buckled in, the impact was so severe it threw both the teenager and the front seat of his Bronco out of the vehicle, Rathdrum police officials said.
Savage landed 61 feet from where the collision occurred.
“A train hitting a car is like a car running over a pop can,” said Officer Tomi McLean.
Savage was on his way to school when he turned off state Highway 53, south onto McCartney Street in downtown Rathdrum, McLean said.
A train was headed west on the tracks at about 58 mph. The intersection at McCartney Street is marked with flashing red lights and bells but no crossing arms. The conductor was blowing the train’s whistle as well, McLean said.
Witnesses who were stopped on the other side of the tracks said Savage drove his Bronco through the railroad crossing without stopping.
One witness told police that it appeared the teenager looked at the train but kept driving in an attempt to get across the tracks before the train got to the intersection, McLean said.
The collision tossed the Bronco about 71 feet, flipping it onto its top, Lt. Alex Carrington said.
“It ripped the bolts out and ripped the whole seat out,” McLean said. “The seat belt snapped.”
One witness was so upset by what she saw she couldn’t talk to police, Carrington said.
Savage suffered a broken arm and broken pelvis among other injuries, Carrington said. He did regain consciousness at the accident scene before being taken to Kootenai Medical Center.
McLean urged drivers to be more careful at railroad crossings. “People get in the habit of just going across them and not paying attention,” she said.
A crossing arm is expected to be installed at the McCartney intersection in September, Carrington said.
Savage, a senior at Lakeland, played cornerback for the football team and participates in soccer, said Brad Murray, the school’s athletic director.
Counselors were made available to students upset by the accident.
“We’re all praying for the best,” Murray said.
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