EFFINGHAM, Ill. (WCIA)– A family is grieving tonight after a man died in a train collision. It happened in Effingham this morning.
67-year-old Ernest Rich had just dropped his grandchildren off at school when authorities say he hit a train. Authorities are still investigating what happened.
“He didn’t care if he was successful, but he loved helping people who could reach success,” Lifelong friend Carolyn Hollar said.
Friends of Ernest Rich say he was the type of guy who would do anything for anybody. He had just dropped his grandkids off at school and was heading home when he came to the railroad crossing on evergreen avenue and route 45 in Effingham. That’s where he drove into a train.
“It struck the fifth car of a freight train,” Effingham Fire Chief Bob Tutko said.
The witness’ car was stopped when they saw Rich drive into the opposite lane. His car continued going forward, striking the train, then he was pulled into the ditch.
“The impact severed an airline, which caused the train to go into an emergency stop,” Chief Tutko said.
The Effingham fire chief says the train was going about 26 miles per hour so it was able to stop quickly. The crossing gates were working at the time. The Effingham County Coroner says Rich died at the scene.
“It causes us some concern that maybe it could’ve been caused by a medical emergency,” Coroner Kim Rhodes said.
Coroner Kim Rhodes says at this point they are not entirely sure how this happened, but they do have an autopsy planned.
“And hopefully we’ll have some answers for the family at that time,” Rhodes said.
In the meantime, loved ones are heartbroken about losing a person who put others before himself.
“It was shocking to hear who it was. And Ernie was just a kind, quiet guy, he would do anything for you,” Randy Curry, Rich’s friend, said.
“He would want everyone to make amends with each other, to reach out and help people, and always, always be humble,” Hollar said.
The roads and railroads were closed for about two hours after the accident. The fire chief wanted the public to know some railroad safety tips.
He says trains come faster than expected, so don’t try to beat one. Don’t go around lowered gates. Also, you should be about 15 feet from the gates. The trains are at least three feet wider than the tracks.