SAVOY - An employee of a farm chemical company has died from injuries he received when his vehicle was struck by a train as it left a farm field in Savoy Thursday night.
Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup said the Brent E. Stewart, 42, of Newman, was pronounced dead at Carle Foundation Hospital at 8:24 p.m. Thursday.
Champaign County Sheriff's Sgt. Jeff Vercler said he was an Illini FS employee.
Vercler said just after 7 p.m., Mr. Stewart was exiting a farm field on the east side of U.S. 45 jut south of the Wal-Mart and north of Airport Road when he pulled in front of a northbound Amtrak train.
He was driving an Ag-Chem TerraGator, Vercler said. The vehicle is a three-wheeled fertilizer applicator with high flotation tires. One of the tires could be seen several yards north of where the collision occurred and a rim for it in the median.
Mr. Stewart had to be cut out of the cab by firefighters from Savoy and Tolono. He was airlifted to Carle Foundation Hospital by a helicopter that landed on U.S. 45.
Traffic was stopped in both directions for about an hour.
"We were at Wal-Mart and saw the Amtrak train coming and heard a loud boom and saw a tire flying in the air," said Savannah Molina of Tolono, who stood on the highway with two friends watching as the helicopter landed.
"It sounded like a huge grenade went off. Smoke covered the train. It was a huge wall of smoke," she said. The teen and her friends held hands and prayed for the man as they watched him being loaded into a helicopter.
Dave Trotter of Charleston was headed south on U.S. 45 when he saw the collision.
He said it appeared as if the farm vehicle was exiting the field at an unmarked crossover.
"The Amtrak train came through and hit the truck straight on," Trotter said.
Vercler confirmed that Mr. Stewart was leaving the field, exiting to the west after having finished his work. There was no fertilizer in the spreader.
Champaign County sheriff's Sgt. Greg Mills said there were about 100 passengers on the northbound Amtrak. He walked through the train cars after the wreck and estimated there were only two or three reporting injuries like a sore neck.
"I think the emergency brakes were activated," he said.
The passengers remained on the train and Amtrak officials sent a tow vehicle to take the damaged train to the Illinois Terminal, Mills said. An engine was pulling seven passenger cars. The front of the train appeared heavily damaged.