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2 train-vehicle collisions in 1 week near Perham; 3 people injured

There have been two separate vehicle-train collisions in the past week at railroad crossings near Perham, leaving three people injured.

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A train flies westbound by the railroad crossing near County Highway 80 and Pikewood Lane. (Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus)
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There have been two separate vehicle-train collisions in the past five days at railroad crossings near Perham. Three people have been injured, at least two of those severely.

Both crashes happened just outside of Perham city limits. The Otter Tail County Sheriff's Office and Perham Fire Department responded to the scenes.

Perham Fire Chief Mark Schmidt said both crashes caused extensive vehicle damage. He did not know details about the conditions of any of the injured parties, but as of the morning of Dec. 22, he believed all three were alive.

Two people were seriously hurt in the most recent crash, which happened Dec. 21 at about 4 p.m. According to a news release from the sheriff's office, a 2001 Ford Explorer was traveling southbound when it crossed the railroad tracks near the intersection of Pikewood Lane and County Highway 80 before being struck by a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train.

The driver of the Explorer, 39-year-old Jonathan Schall of Darfur, and his passenger, Travis May, 36, of Audubon, were both badly hurt, according to the release. They were transported by Perham Ambulance to Perham Health. The accident remains under investigation by the sheriff's office.

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The railroad crossing near County Highway 80 and Pikewood Lane, right outside of Perham, where the collision on Dec. 21 took place. (Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus)

The other collision, which occurred at about 1:45 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 16, happened when Irandukunda Stanislas, 24, of Fargo was driving a Fed Ex delivery truck; it slid into the intersection between 475th Street and the railroad tracks. Stanislas attempted to back out of the intersection due to the incoming train but was unable to do so in time.

The train, which activated the braking procedure, struck the front driver side of the delivery van. No packages were noticeably damaged, and Perham Ambulance took Stanislas to Perham Hospital for evaluation. He sustained injuries to the shoulder which were not life-threatening.

Perham City Manager Jonathan Smith said there have been a number of train-vehicle accidents in and near Perham in recent years, and said the city "may look at doing another analysis on what it would take" to create safer crossings.

City leaders explored the possibility of Perham becoming a railway "quiet zone" in 2016–2017, which would have entailed a number of safety upgrades at crossings in town, but Smith said they determined the costs and benefits didn't add up. The idea has been brought up again a few times over the years since then, but he said it's never gained traction.

"Unfortunately, every time there is an accident — which we have had several over the past few years — it raises the amount of infrastructure needed to create safer crossings," Smith said.

In the meantime, Schmidt reminds people to, "Pay attention to all traffic laws in regards to train crossings. Stop signs are around those crossings for a reason. Stop, listen and double check again, and drive with extra care with icy and snowy road conditions."

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