A train slammed into an ambulance that apparently tried to get out of its path, but stopped at a rail crossing, killing all three paramedics on board. The patient in the vehicle survived, officials said.
Paramedics Jeff Ferrand, 37, and John Rook, 23, died at the scene Saturday after the Union Pacific train hit the front end of the ambulance, spinning it around and ejecting the emergency workers.
A third paramedic, Christopher Klingan, also 23, was taken to a hospital but later died, officials said.
“Perhaps the driver saw the train coming and tried to get back, because a matter of two or three feet and there would not be an accident,” Arkansas State Police Cpl. Darren Neal said.
Neal said the driver apparently decided he couldn’t make it across the county road crossing in rural Fulton, backed up and came only a few feet from getting out of the train’s path.
The ambulance was carrying a woman, Charlene Gayton, who had suffered a heart attack or a stroke. She was not hurt in the wreck, and remained in stable condition late Saturday.
Gayton, 66, was taken to a hospital by her family, who came in another vehicle and pulled her out of the ambulance. The accident happened about 50 yards from her mobile home.
Witness Beauford Wyatt Sr. said he rushed to help the paramedics, but one of them was already dead and he couldn’t save the other.
“I tried to help,” said Wyatt, 25. “He said two words and died in my hands.”
Officials said there was a sign at the crossing, but no gates or lights. Train engineer John Harris told police he saw the ambulance start to cross the tracks Saturday afternoon. He blew the horn, rang the bell and applied the emergency brake to no avail.
Authorities were investigating.