A family in Southern Colorado was heading to church when their minivan collided with an Amtrak train last Sunday afternoon, leaving five family members dead.
The Colorado State Patrol identified the victims as the Millers. Stephen Miller, 32, was driving the 2005 Chrysler Town & Country minivan and was with his wife, Christina Miller, 33, in the passenger seat.
In an interview with Keith Schlabach, Christina’s cousin, she was in the company of her husband, Steve, and their children when they met the accident with the train, a Southwest Chief, about 3 miles north of Trinidad.
“We were at church and when they didn’t show up for church, we were worried about what was going on,” Schlabach said. “We thought they were broken down or something. One of the other guys was driving back from church toward Steve’s house to see what happened, and then he got to the tracks.”
Schlabach further explained that the Miller family often used the route which crossed the train tracks when going to the Trinidad Christian Church.
The police also identified Steve and Christina’s four daughters, three of whom also died in the collision, namely 6-year-old Abigail, 2-year-old Kathryn and 8-month-old Ellianna.
Only 4-year-old Heidi survived the crash, but sustained serious injuries and was transported by a helicopter to the Children’s Hospital Colorado. According to her relatives, the child has been stable since Monday morning and has been asking for her mother. A GoFundMe page was created to aid in the funding of the funeral for the family members.
“Steve was very likable,” Schlabach said. “He was very outgoing. Everybody got along with Steve. He’s just that kind of guy. He really liked reaching out to people — reaching out to people and making friends.”
According to the investigators, the Millers’ minivan was going north on the Las Animas County Road 32 but was unsuccessful in yielding right of way to the incoming Amtrak train, which was heading west. The Chrysler’s right side then collided with the front of the train.
After the collision, the Millers’ vehicle was pushed on the railroad tracks until the Amtrak came to a complete stop.
Because of the Chrysler’s failure to stop at the tracks, the authorities have deemed the family’s inability to give way to the train as the “primary contributing factor of the crash.”
Nonetheless, the police pointed out that there are currently no gates or warning lights at the crossing; it can merely be identified by its four crossbuck signs. The state transportation officials already assured authorities that there have been planned improvements on gates and flash signs for the said crossing.
The Denver Post reported that there had been six vehicular accidents at the site since 1986, including a collision that killed a man driving a pickup truck in 2010.
Meanwhile, Amtrak has previously been involved in a well-known incident after a Southwest Chief train in Kansas was blamed for the injury of over two dozen individuals as well as damage to the tracks after being traced to a grain truck. According to the Associated Press, a National Transportation Safety Board member indicated that the impact altered the train tracks from 12 to 14 inches.