RR CrossingRavenna, OH – A 15-year-old girl learning to drive was killed on Sunday after the vehicle she was driving was struck by a train.

Sierra Thornton had recently received her temporary driver’s permit and was driving on an access road with her father and four younger sisters. At around 6 p.m. they approached a railroad crossing near her home that doesn’t have a crossing gate.

The girl didn’t see or hear the approaching train, but her father did. When he alerted her, she panicked and ended up stopping in the middle of the tracks. “She got into a panic and didn’t know what to do and was not able to get out of the way of the train,” Portage County Sheriff David Doak said. “We think she was trying to get the vehicle into another gear or trying to back up.”

Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to get out off the tracks, and a Norfolk Southern train struck the driver’s side of the SUV, killing Thornton. Her father was conscious after the crash, and he and his other daughters were taken to the hospital. Their conditions are not known at this time.

In Ohio, teens can obtain a temporary driver’s license at 15½ and can drive with a licensed adult. Another interesting fact is that only 35 percent of public train crossings in the nation have gates, according to Angels on Track.

I’ve told this story before during a podcast, but something similar happened to me when I was younger, and is why I normally don’t make harsh comments regarding a driver’s intelligence after they are hit by a train. I was approaching a double-track railroad crossing at around 50 mph with the radio blaring. This particular railroad crossing was not equipped with a crossing gate or lights, but I had crossed it many, many times before.

On this day, as I was headbanging to some Slayer, my car was already passing over the first set of tracks when I heard the train’s horn. I snapped my head to the right to see the oncoming train and instinctively floored the gas pedal. I’m not going to exaggerate and say I was inches away from dying, but as I sat shaking at the next stop light making sure I didn’t shit my pants, I realized had I panicked and slammed on my brakes, I’d have been creamed.

This incident taught me early on to always assume a train is coming at tracks with no safety measures, but there are more variables involved in train\car collisions than someone simply trying to beat the train. Think about how many times you’ve crossed through a normal intersection trusting the lights were functioning correctly, or that someone hasn’t blown through their stoplight.

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