NEW IBERIA — The Amtrak train that slammed into a car last week, killing two adults and three children and critically injuring another child, was equipped with a video camera that should show what happened in the moments leading to the crash, officials said Monday.
State Police spokesman Brooks David said investigators will have to retrieve the video from an Amtrak facility in New Orleans.
Although an Amtrak spokesperson did not immediately respond Monday to a request for comment, a spokesman for BNSF Railway — which owns and maintains the track where the crash happened — said the crossing’s caution signals and gates were functioning before the crash, and he said there should be video evidence of the incident.
“I can tell you that the lead Amtrak locomotive was camera-equipped,” said Joe Faust, who represents BNSF for the Southern region.
Faust said Amtrak is leading the investigation. David said other drivers witnessed the incident.
Phyllis Leblanc and her husband, Steven Leblanc Jr., were ferrying home her twin 12-year-old grandsons from their birthday party at a Lafayette trampoline park — along with two of the boys’ friends from Daspit Elementary School — when the train slammed into the car, which was stopped on the tracks, around 6 p.m.
Phyllis Leblanc, 70, died on the scene, along with Trinity Schmidt, 12, and Jayla Daigle, 11.
One of the twins, Chase Day, died on Christmas Day. Steven Leblanc Jr., 49, died Dec. 26.
The other twin, Brandon Day, remains in a Baton Rouge hospital but is expected to survive his injuries, the Leblanc family said Monday.
“We’re just trying to cope with all that,” said Pam Leblanc, sister to Steven Leblanc Jr., as she gathered with family at her father’s New Iberia home.
The Leblancs said Phyllis Leblanc’s 2006 Ford Taurus was trapped between front and rear traffic during a thunderstorm at the time of the crash, an issue they said highlights a long-standing problem with the crossing.
“It’s a horrible, horrible intersection,” said Lori Louviere, another sister of Steven Leblanc Jr.
At least three other people have died, and two have been injured in 13 collisions there since 1975, according to Federal Railroad Administration records.
The crossing is equipped with cross arms and caution lights, but the tracks are about a car-length away from La. 88’s junction with La. 182. A line of trees that begins about 50 yards to the west blocks a clear view of the tracks for any drivers headed north toward the crossing.
Bob Comer, an Ohio-based railroad accident investigator who viewed the crossing on Google Maps, said the crossing’s layout raises serious safety concerns.
“That situation at La. 88 is just absolutely the most dangerous possible situation you can get because the danger zone is about the length of a car,” causing traffic buildup that could lead to a crash, Comer said.
One solution would be to install a traffic signal at the intersection with a sensor that forces a green light when vehicles are stopped at the intersection as the train is approaching, thus clearing the crossing of traffic, Comer said.
Such a sensor could also send a message to the train’s engineer that a vehicle is on the tracks, giving extra time to hit the brakes and possibly avoid a crash.
At least 6,100 vehicles and 14 trains pass the crossing daily, according to state-reported information collected by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The maximum train speed is 70 mph.
FRA incident reports indicate there have been other train-vehicle accidents at the crossing, including four since 2010. Of those four, three of the vehicles were stopped on the tracks ahead of the crash.
No injuries or fatalities were reported in any of those cases.
The last fatality recorded at the intersection was in 2002, when an Amtrak train carrying 147 passengers crashed into a vehicle driven by a 46-year-old man who did not stop at the crossing.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.