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Fateful, fatal morning on the tracks

Emergency crews work to extricate a pick-up truck from a Burlington Northern-Santa Fe locomotive east of Perham.

It was a strange twist of fate that placed Amanda Bristlin next to the railroad tracks Friday morning, when a train-truck collision took the life of a Perham man.

The victim, Larry J. Brewer, was her neighbor--though she was unaware until later that day that the tragic accident May 29 hit closer to home than she realized.

Bristlin was driving east on Old Highway 10, at about 6:10 a.m., to Wadena, where she works as a home health care aide. She may have been the only witness, aside from the train engineers themselves, who actually saw the moment of impact.

"I was so shook up at the time," said Bristlin, 22, "but I had no idea it was my neighbor...I feel so horrible for the family. I can't imagine how awful it would be to go through."

Brewer and Bristlin were neighbors for about a year, and because they were relative newcomers to Perham, they did not know each other real well, said Bristlin. The Brewers moved to the Perham area from Alabama.

"But he was very nice, very pleasant," said Bristlin of the few contacts the neighbors shared. They lived next door to one another in the Perham Memorial Hospital neighborhood.

There was another motorist who came by about the time of the accident, and Bristlin believes that was the person who phoned in the accident report.

It was an unreal, unbelievable experience for Bristlin.

"My reaction was 'did I really just see that...was that real?' It is something you only see in the movies," said Bristlin.

Wreckage from the pick-up truck box was scattered at the point of collision--about two miles east of downtown Perham. The front-end and cab of the truck were pushed nearly three-quarters of a mile, before the westbound Burlington Northern-Santa Fe locomotive came to a stop--near the Perham Stock Yards facility.

Railroad engineers estimated the speed of the train at about 60 miles per hour at the instance of the collision, according to the Perham Police Department report.

The train engineers blew the horn continuously when they saw the truck on the tracks, which Bristlin heard as she witnessed the accident.

According to the Perham police report, the engineers saw Brewer look at them; and he appeared to attempt to accelerate forward--but did not make it off the tracks in time.

Extraction tools were brought to the scene to cut the truck apart, as the impact of the collision had wedged the truck frame around the train engine.

Brewer is believed to have been killed instantly. Perham officer Nick Stromme was at the accident scene by about 6:23 a.m. The victim had no pulse when it was checked, almost immediately after Stromme arrived.

"Once we extracted the victim, we then assisted BN and Little Bear Towing with removal of the truck cab from the engine," said Perham Fire Chief Mark Schmidt

Perham police officers, volunteer firefighters, Otter Tail County deputies and East Otter Tail EMT staff were at the scene.

A call was immediately made to halt east and west train traffic, said Jim Rieber, Perham Emergency Medical Services director.

The accident occurred at an un-signaled crossing to a private road that leads to one residence on the north side of the tracks. According to an officer at the scene, the victim was crossing the tracks to pick up a fellow employee, Joshua Walczesky before work.

The Chevy pick-up truck Brewer was driving belonged to Freshcoat Painting and Finishing, a Richville-based firm, where he was employed.

Funeral services were Monday for Larry J. Brewer, 67; at the Perham Alliance Community Church.

A complete obituary appears inside this week's edition.

Schoeneberger Funeral Home, Perham, is in charge of the arrangements, 218-346-5175.