UPDATED: Newman man dies from collision with passenger train

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.

 

 

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Ellen wrote on April 25, 2014 at 7:04 am

First of all, this is a horrible accident. I truly pray that this is the last farming related accident this season, but it is so early in the year. My prayers also are with family and friends of the man killed, as well as the train staff. I am sure they are regretful for what happened. I have rode this train many times, and have observed their safety precautions for both those riding as well as those who are outside the train. 

I have only one question. In both versions of this article, the original and the updated version, I am trying to understand the purpose of the following statement, "Dave Trotter of Charleston was headed south on U.S. 45 with groceries he had bought at Schnucks when he saw the collision." Can anyone tell me why it was important to mention what he had purchased and where he had purchased them from? 

 

Mary Schenk wrote on April 25, 2014 at 11:04 am

Ellen: It indeed is not important to the ultimate tragedy and I confess that when I am writing in haste, sometimes adrenaline, not thoughtful evaluation, takes over. I'll try to avoid superfluous details in the future.

Ellen wrote on April 25, 2014 at 1:04 pm

Thanks for responding Mary. 

sweet caroline wrote on April 25, 2014 at 7:04 pm

This was a well-written story, Mary.