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End run at rail gates fatal to trucker ; Train from Chicago with 236 riders, crew of 16 has no one hurt in Dunkirk crash

The truck driver killed Wednesday morning when his tractor-trailer was hit by a passenger train in Dunkirk drove around crossing gates that were lowered, witnesses say.

Randolph Todd, of Sheppard, Texas, was heading to the Nestle Purina plant on Middle Road to make a delivery, police said. Witnesses told police he drove around the Middle Road rail crossing gates, which were lowered, and was hit by an eastbound Amtrak train at about 8:30 a.m.

Todd, 51, was pronounced dead at the scene, Dunkirk police said.

No injuries were reported among the train's 236 passengers and 16 crew members, police said.

Passengers remained aboard during the five-hour delay, with heat, food and water being provided for them.

The rig is owned by Lew Thompson & Son of Huntsville, Ark. The tractor was a total loss, and the trailer was heavily damaged, police said. In addition, police said, the lead engine on the train incurred damage to its front end.

The train involved was Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited, which travels daily from Chicago to Boston and New York City. It had left Chicago at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday.

"All of a sudden, there was a jolt," passenger Peter Fiannaca of Oneonta, who was en route to Rochester, said in a cell phone call to The Buffalo News on Wednesday morning. "It felt like we hit something, but no one knew whether it was locking of the brakes."

Fiannaca said he walked to the rear of the train and looked out a window.

"It was cut like butter," Fiannaca said, describing the wreckage of the tractor-trailer. "Half is on one side; half is on the other."

Police said the tragedy should serve as a reminder about the dangers of driving around lowered rail crossing gates, adding that it's a violation of state vehicle and traffic law to do so.

The train left Dunkirk at about 1:40 p.m. Wednesday.

Sunday, an engine fire broke out on an Amtrak train traveling the same route, delaying passengers east of Schenectady for about three hours.

Lew Thompson & Son's fleet of 41 trucks posted a good safety record during the last two years, according to data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

In 32 truck inspections in the last two years, only three of the trucking company's rigs were ordered off the road for violations. That's twice as good as the national average among all trucking companies.

In inspections of 74 drivers, five of them were ordered out of service. That out-of-service violation rate matches the national average.

Inspectors cited the company four times for requiring or permitting a driver to drive after 14 hours on duty. None of these violations occurred in New York.

The company's trucks drove 3.2 million miles in 2009, and the only unsafe driving violation was a speeding ticket in Arkansas.

The company employs 57 drivers. In 2009, one driver was cited for possessing alcohol four hours before reporting to work.

Before Wednesday's crash, the company's trucks were involved in three other crashes the previous two years, none fatal, but two of which involved injuries. None of the crashes was in New York.

Because of the nature of the incident, the National Transportation Safety Board won't pursue an investigation, according to spokesman Keith Holloway in Washington, D.C., who said, "That's not something we look into."

News Staff Reporter Patrick Lakamp contributed to this report.

e-mail: jhabuda@buffnews.com

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