When Anne Williams heard the collision from inside her house, she had no idea that it was her husband who had been hit by a passing train.
She looked out her front door, which was within view of the nearby train tracks. The train had stopped, and she thought that maybe something was wrong with it. Her curiosity vanished at the sight of her brother-in-law running toward the train, screaming her husband’s name. Anne immediately ran to call 911.
Mark Williams lives across the street from his 71-year-old brother, John Williams, on County Road 800 North. John and Anne have lived in the same house for more than 40 years, working at a barn that’s just over the railroad tracks cutting across C.R. 800 N. The sharp sound of a train whistle is just background noise to the family at this point.
But on this Sunday morning, Mark had also noticed that the train had stopped on the tracks. And while peeking through the gaps between train cars, he saw the mangled remains of his brother’s tractor on the other side.
The two front wheels and axle had been completely torn off the tractor, and the entire thing was flipped upside down. After Mark crawled under the train to get to his brother, he saw that John was unconscious inside the crushed enclosed cab and bleeding profusely from his head. But he was alive.
“What saved his life, in my thoughts, was the enclosed cab,” Mark said. “The structure of the cab, I think, kept the tractor from coming over on him.”
Even though first responders were on their way, Mark said that when John woke up, he wanted to get pulled out of the cab as soon as possible. So Mark moved around bits and pieces of the wrecked tractor until he could get John into a position to be pulled out.
By the time the Boone County Sheriff’s Office arrived a few minutes later, John was lying next to the tractor with Mark kneeling beside him. Anne had also made it to the other side of the tracks.
“There was that space of time before I could get over there that I didn’t know what I was going to find,” Anne said. “There was a lot of blood, but he ended up not having any brain injuries. He looked like he had been hit by a train, though. It was very horrifying to look at.”
Anne followed the ambulances that rushed John to Eskenazi Hospital in Indianapolis. He was still in the Intensive Care Unit Wednesday, being treated for broken ribs, a collapsed lung, a broken clavicle, fractures on his neck and spine and cuts, abrasions and contusions all over his body.
“Truthfully, I feel very grateful,” Anne said. “It’s amazing to me that we’re not making funeral arrangements instead of helping him heal. I’m trying to focus all the energy in a positive way to help him get better.”
No one is quite sure why John got hit by the train in the first place. Sergeant Chris Burcham with the Boone County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that the tractor and train hit each other at almost the same time, flipping and breaking the tractor. The train suffered no visible damages, and CSX officials confirmed that the freight on the train wasn’t damaged.
Thorntown-Sugar Creek Fire Chief Mike Martin said there were no flashing lights or barriers at the railroad crossing - just a sign.
While John is awake and alert, Anne said, he doesn’t remember much from the accident. Right now, they’re focusing on his recovery and rehabilitation. John’s got a good attitude about it, Anne said, and he’s already doing much better than he was on Sunday when the accident occurred.