By Sharyn Jackson, Des Moines Register
BATAVIA, Iowa - A man who works just yards from the railroad crossing in Batavia where a fatal train-van accident occurred Monday said the scene was unlike anything he had ever seen before.
"It was a mess," said Verdae Blom, who works for Vision Ag, which is located along the tracks.
Blom said he heard a loud noise around 4 p.m. Monday that sounded like a crash, and then saw a large plume of dust.
When he walked over to the crossing, he saw two of the children had been thrown from the van.
The minivan landed front-down in a ditch next to the tracks. "It was a tangled-up mess," Blom said. "The whole back of it, on the passenger side from the front seat, the whole thing was wiped out."
"That's the first time I'd seen anything like this," Blom said, "and it was terrible."
Two Batavia children died when the minivan their mother drove was struck by a freight train Monday afternoon.
Tara Lewman allegedly drove around a lowered railroad crossing gate in her 2004 Dodge Caravan when her vehicle was struck by a westbound Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight train at about 4 p.m. Monday, according to the Iowa State Patrol's initial crash report.
Killed were two of Lewman's daughters, Kallie Clark, 5, and Erika Clark, 4.
Lewman, 25, and a third child, Jordan Clark, 1, survived the crash and were transported by helicopter ambulance to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Their conditions were unknown this morning.
Lewman apparently stopped at the railroad gates while headed northbound on Fourth Street in Batavia, a major north-south farm-to-market road in Jefferson County, said Batavia Mayor Randy Major.
One Burlington Northern freight train pointed eastbound was parked near the intersection for a crew change, Major said. After waiting an undetermined amount of time, Lewman drove around the gates and was struck by a westbound Burlington Northern freight train that she would not have been able to see around the parked train, authorities said.
Unlike larger cities such as Des Moines, trains do not slow down while passing through smaller communities.
"Amtrak and the freight trains come through here going about 60 mph," said Batavia Fire Chief Dave Wells.
The railroad crew at the scene assisted firefighters, the Iowa State Patrol and other rescue workers in trying to revive and comfort the injured, Wells said.
"When our guys got there, the railroad people were already doing CPR on one of the kids," he said. "It's a very sad thing. Crashes with small children are never easy to deal with."
Batavia's all-volunteer fire department has no trained paramedics. The city of about 500 relies on assistance from Ottumwa, which is about 15 miles west of Batavia, and other agencies.
Des Moines Register