Third accident in three years at crossing

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BRIAN WALKER/Press Bicyclist Curtis Speth waits while a train is stopped during the investigation of a car-train crash in Post Falls on Tuesday morning. Speth was at an intersection west of the crash.

POST FALLS — Location-wise, the Tuesday morning vehicle-train collision that claimed the life of 15-year-old Mikelli Villaseñor wasn't an isolated occurrence.

Devoid of lights and a guard, the railroad crossing on North Spokane Street has been, according to the Federal Railroad Administration, the site of five other accidents dating back to 1986.

Jacob Brockus, 17, was the driver of a northbound Chevy Malibu when he and fellow Post Falls High student Villaseñor were stuck on the passenger side around 6 a.m. en route to a jazz band event.

Villaseñor died at the scene and Brockus was sent to Kootenai Health for serious injuries.

In September 2016, according to the FRA report, a man on a cellphone rolled through the crossroad before being hit on the passenger side. He was uninjured.

In December 2014, two teenage girls in a Hyundai Accent slid into a westbound train at the same crossing due to ice. They, too, walked away.

Travis Campbell, who runs the vehicle-train collision prevention program, Operation Lifesaver, told The Press in 2015 that Kootenai County often leads the state in these kinds of accidents.

He offered his condolences Tuesday.

"We are deeply saddened by the recent incident in North Idaho," Campbell said. "I cannot pretend to know why these types of tragedies occur. I want everyone to remember, see tracks, think train! Always look both ways at the railroad."

Post Falls Police Chief Scot Haug has been with the department for 31 years. He can only recall three incidents at the crossing, including when a woman committed suicide on the train tracks in 2008.

"I wouldn't say it is a dangerous intersection," Haug said. "But you do have the hill, which can present some problems when it's icy."

He attributed Tuesday's accident to driver error.

"This was a mistake by the driver (of the car)," Haug said. "A witness saw him stop and proceed to go forward."

Many locals have groused about the absence of lights and a guard at the crossing. Haug said that would be a topic of discussion in Tuesday night's Post Falls City Council meeting.

From 2009 to 2016, the state of Idaho tallied 129 vehicle-train collisions resulting in 18 fatalities.

Kootenai County also experienced tragedy in that stretch, among them a 53-year-old Post Falls man was killed when his car collided with a train at Ramsey Road at Diagonal Road near Twin Lakes.

In 2012, a 22-year-old Rathdrum woman was killed when her car was hit by a train at the Ramsey Road crossing, just north of Boekel Road near Rathdrum.

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