Alabama Firefighter Helps Rescues Trapped Driver; Service Truck Collided With Train

A Lanett, Ala., man was in critical condition Thursday afternoon after the truck he was driving collided with a Norfolk Southern train in Smiths Station, Ala.

David Babson III was driving a Green's Propane Gas Co. service truck on the railroad track crossing at Lee roads 298 and 243 behind Smiths Plaza shopping center, said Alabama State Trooper Emory Lashley.

"He stopped at the stop sign and then he went," Lashley said.

Babson, 41, was being transferred to the burn center of Doctors Hospital in Augusta, Ga., Thursday evening, said Marion Scott, a hospital spokeswoman at The Medical Center in Columbus.

Lashley said the train's engineer, whose name isn't being released, was blowing the horn when Babson attempted to cross the tracks at 12:20 p.m. CST. The truck was hit on the passenger's side while he was driving south on Lee Road 298, Lashley said. Bursting into flames, the truck was dragged 10 to 15 feet before it was caught in the tracks and flipped. Parts of the truck were strewn on both sides of the tracks. Lashley said the train was traveling between 30 and 35 mph.

Murray Pledger, who lives across the street from the crossing on Lee Road 243, helped pull Babson from the burning truck.

Pledger said he was inside his house watching television when he heard a bang. He rushed out and with two other people -- Kelly Westmoreland, a Friendship volunteer firefighter who works nearby, and Joey Allen, a passerby -- helped pull him from the truck. He said Babson was conscious and talking when they pulled him out of the truck, but he was badly burned.

"It's a reaction," said Pledger, who retired from the Phenix City Police Department as a lieutenant in 1997.

Angie Richards, deputy chief of Friendship Volunteer Fire Department, said the department was on the scene three minutes after getting the call.

The railroad crossing is the same one where Smiths Station High School senior Kelly Pierce was hit by a train and killed last April.

Judy Mills, who operates the Endless Summer tanning salon and storage unit less than 50 yards from the railroad crossing, was involved in an accident with a train at that intersection in December 2003. She said the wreck Thursday reminded her of when Pierce died there.

"When she got killed, I kept saying 'How many more, how many more is it going to take before they do something about this damn place?' " she said. "Why don't they close this intersection off? People can go down to the next one that has arms."

Pledger said the intersection is dangerous not only because of the trains, but motorists also have to worry about two lanes of traffic on Lee roads 243 and 298.

"People will not stop," he said. "Maybe they take it for granted."

The Smiths Station City Council approved in August a contract with the Alabama Department of Transportation to install gates, bells and signals at the crossing. Mayor Lafaye Dellinger said Thursday that the council is still waiting to hear when they will be installed. In August, she said it could be a year. She said she called U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers to ask him to help speed up the process.

"We've been told it's been approved and we're waiting," she said. "This is such an awkward intersection."