Officials say the 15-year-old boy whose leg was severed after being hit by a train in Washougal on May 16 was attempting to crawl under the train when he was hit.
Washougal Police Commander Allen Cook said the teen was crossing underneath a slow-moving westbound train on railroad tracks near George Schmid Memorial Park, when his pant leg got caught on the rails.
The train’s wheels severed the boy’s leg, Cook said, but as severe as the teen’s injuries were, the incident could have been fatal if the boy had actually made it under the first train. That’s because a faster-moving eastbound train was approaching when the boy’s pant leg trapped him on the tracks.
The accident occurred about one-half mile east of 32nd Street, across from the baseball fields near the Washougal School District office.
Jeff Wittler, a Camas Little League coach, said he was on his way to the baseball field when he saw a car pulled halfway off the road with its emergency lights on, and a man running toward the train tracks.
Wittler got out of his car and approached the tracks. That’s when he saw the injured teen, still under the train, raise his head. He said he could tell that the bottom part of the boy’s leg had been severed.
Wittler used a ladder attached to one of the train cars to climb over the train and reach the teen.
“When I had gotten over (the train), I tried to talk to him, and he was really scared. I was trying to talk to him and calm him down,” Wittler said.
Wittler, who has received first aid training through his job at Clark Public Utilities, said he wrapped a belt around the teen’s upper thigh to help stem the bleeding. Other men, including an orthopedic surgeon and another doctor, soon joined the rescue efforts, Wittler said.
“It was a calming influence when the orthopedic showed up, because I was worried I wasn’t in the right spot,” Wittler said.
Crew members on the eastbound train saw the boy crawling underneath the westbound train and radioed for both trains to stop, said Gus Melonas, spokesperson for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway.
Melonas said the westbound train that ran over the boy’s leg was carrying grain and had slowed to about 3 mph to allow the eastbound freight train to pass.
“Thank God he didn’t go a little further, because the other train would have hit him,” Cook said.
The police commander added that multiple people from a nearby baseball field called 911 to report the accident after hearing another male teenager, who police say was with the victim, calling for help.
Washougal police officer Casey Handley arrived on scene three minutes after dispatch at 6:52 p.m., Cook said, and was able to apply a standard tourniquet to the teen’s leg to help slow the bleeding.
Paramedics showed up soon after and transported the injured teen, whose name is not being released, to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland.
“As bad as (the accident) was, thank God there were things that went well,” Wittler said, recalling the fortunate timing of the car with a ladder passing by, the experienced people who stopped and the timing and care of the emergency medical technicians.
“Things went pretty well after they went horribly wrong,” Wittler said.
The train line was shutdown for three hours and four trains experienced delays on Wednesday, Melonas said. An average of 40 trains travel the line daily.
The BNSF spokesman said that, this year alone, there have been five railroad trespass fatalities in Washington State. Last year, there were 23 fatalities — the second highest number within the past 25 years.
“We can’t encourage the public enough to recognize that railroad property is no-trespassing,” Melonas said. “Trains move on any track, at any time, in any direction.”