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Man 'plays chicken' with Amtrak

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News Perham,Minnesota 56573
Perham Focus
Man 'plays chicken' with Amtrak
Perham Minnesota 222 2nd Avenue SE 56573

A pedestrian was hospitalized in Fargo with serious injuries after being struck by an Amtrak passenger train in downtown Perham early Saturday morning, Sept. 26.


Railroad officials are considering bringing charges in connection with the incident, which occurred about 2:15 a.m.

The pedestrians were "trying to beat the train," according to the Perham police department report.

The victim is Mark Lepper, 50, who lists an address in Wadena County. He sustained serious leg injuries, a possible broken pelvis and head injuries.

The incident occurred at the rail intersection on 3rd Ave. SW, just 25 yards from Perham City Hall.

Lepper was struck by the westbound Amtrak. Perham emergency crews and police officers responded at the scene, and the victim was then transported to MeritCare in Fargo.

A second man, Robert Olson, 21, Perham, was walking with the victim, but was unhurt, according to Perham police officer Phillip Vaughn.

The two were crossing the tracks on foot, some distance west of the designated 2nd Ave. NE rail crossing. It is technically unlawful to cross tracks in a location other than a formal crossing. For this reason, Amtrak is considering possible "trespassing" charges against the two, said Perham Police Chief Brian Nelson.

"The railroad companies are pretty formidable about this sort of incident--they want some kind of official action," said Nelson.

In fact, there was a "near miss" at a Perham area intersection recently, involving a train and a farm tractor. Based on the video that Nelson has viewed, the train missed the hay wagon that was towed by the tractor by a matter of inches, he said. Burlington Northern-Santa Fe released the video to the Perham Police Department in an effort to identify the tractor--for possible rail-crossing charges.

In the case of the Sept. 26 incident, the two pedestrians should have crossed at the 2nd Ave. intersection, which was less than a half-block away. It is clearly marked and has mechanical rail crossing arms.

"Why they crossed there and not at the marked intersection, I have no idea," said Nelson. "The Amtrak was clipping along about 70 to 75 miles per hour. They darted across the tracks, but the 50-year-old didn't quite make it."

A video, which nearly all locomotives now have on board, is expected to be reviewed by both rail and local police officials. "The video should give us a better idea of what happened," said Nelson.

This is the third accident on the tracks through Perham in less than six months. A man was killed last spring, a mile east of town, when the vehicle he was driving was struck at a rail intersection with a residential road. Late last summer, a truck driver stalled on the tracks and a train collided with the rig. The driver was unhurt in that accident, which occurred at the same intersection as the Sept. 26 incident.

The Amtrak train engineer stopped the train a short distance after the accident. Train traffic was backed up for several hours before the accident scene was investigated and cleared.

"(The victim) was pretty beat up...and the scene was complete chaos at first," said Officer Vaughn, who credited the EMTs and the BN-SF crew for their work at the accident scene. "The train engineer was able to stop a short distance past town, and he was right there helping us out."

It was an action-packed day's work for young Officer Vaughn, who was working only the second shift of his law enforcement career. A New York Mills native, he finished schooling as a policeman last spring, and recently signed on with the Perham department.

"It was trial by fire," commented Chief Nelson. "He had a domestic, a train accident, and calls stacked up. He shouldered the brunt of it."