Driverless truck strikes, derails train
Keys in ignition and no sign of trauma inside vehicle
A railroad crane lifts the propane car back into position after it jumped track. In the foreground, crews investigate the totaled truck. PHOTO BY JEREMIAH O
A northbound freight train came to a halt just past the Miller Road crossing near Stanwood early Thursday morning with a stolen pickup truck wedged beneath one of its tanker cars.
The truck was totaled. Tires splayed out and the steering column sprouted above the flattened roof.
Dangling from the column, in the ignition was a set of keys.
No driver was found and there was no indication of trauma in the cab.
The strange circumstances have led investigators to believe someone deliberately set up the collision.
“This one mystifies us,” said Gus Melonas, spokesman for Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway. “We’re not ruling anything out.”
Working with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Department, special agents for BNSF determined that the truck struck the 43-car train at the 48th Avenue NW crossing at 1:40 a.m.
A BNSF train is in a holding pattern at Stanwood Sation aiting for tracks to be cleared Thursday. PHOTO BY ADAM STEWART | STANWOOD/CAMANO NEWS
“The crossing is marked with crossbuck warning signs, the standard white sign with black lettering,” said Melonas. “No automatic warning device is in place.”
The train, moving at 25 miles per hour at the time of the collision, dragged the truck a half mile down the tracks past the Miller Road crossing into a trestle on the east side of the train.
The engineer was not aware of the accident until the emergency system caused the train to stop, according to a report released by the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.
The truck belonged to Judy Pederson, who grew up in Stanwood, the daughter of John and Myrtle Stensaa. Pederson continues to farm in the valley, but lives in Mount Vernon and rents the farmhouse at 6807 Norman Road, where the truck was stolen.
The truck’s bed housed a large diesel tank for refueling farm equipment. Pederson said her farm hand emptied the tank Wednesday, refilling machines, then returned the truck to the farm, locked it up, and took the keys.
“There were no keys in my truck,” Pederson said. “None.”
The woman who rents the farmhouse was watch- barking, Pederson said. She assumes that’s when her truck was stolen.
Pederson said the truck was fitted with oversized mud tires, and there was evidence that someone spun doughnuts in fields throughout the valley, eventually ending up on the opposite side of the tracks from where it was stolen.
Pederson said investigators believe the thieves engaged the parking brake and found a way to hold the gas pedal down. With the engine revving, they released the parking brake and the truck drove itself into the train, smashing into the seventh car from the end, an empty propane tanker. Entangled, the truck careened alongside the locomotive.
The huge diesel tank in the truck’s bed also happened to be empty.
Did they know it was empty, Pederson asked?
Pederson said, “It’s a little scary, what happened,” and she wonders if somebody was trying to do real damage.
“This is very serious,” she said. “The railroad and sheriff are real upset.”
Pederson said the keys found in her truck were “not my key ring.”
“There were several other keys on the ring,” Pederson said. “Nice Nissan keys, nice Volkswagen keys, a Ford key.”
The ring also included the key used to start her truck.
Local freight and Amtrak traffic along the track ceased for several hours as BNSF crews ran inspections and replaced planks at the Miller Road crossing. The tracks reopened at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday and Miller Road reopened for traffic by mid-afternoon, said Melonas.
“It is an all-out investigation to figure out what actually happened,” said Melonas. “There are no suspects at this time.”
Staff Reporter Adam
Stewart: 629-8066 ext. 115
Staff Reporter Jeremiah
O’Hagan: 629-8066 ext.
125 or ohagan@scnews.