Driver triggers train derailment in Mesa - East Valley Tribune: News

Driver triggers train derailment in Mesa

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Posted: Sunday, October 12, 2003 11:25 pm | Updated: 1:21 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

A train derailed Sunday in Mesa just feet from homes after an engineer slammed on the brakes to miss the driver of a pickup stuck on the tracks.

Nine empty cars of the 110-car train came off the tracks about 4 p.m. after the engineer — already slowing down for the truck — realized its driver was on the tracks running toward the train waving a T-shirt. No one was injured. Most of the cars were empty. One car of hazardous materials was not disturbed, said Mesa Fire Department spokesman Mark Freeman.

Traffic on Southern Avenue and Baseline Road near Center Street was snarled for at least three hours.

The pickup’s driver, Robert Merchant, 20, of Snowflake, was taken into custody by Mesa police about 7:30 p.m. and released about 8:45 p.m. after drug testing, said Mesa police detective Tim Gaffney.

Police will await drug test results before recommending any charges to the county prosecutor. Those could include criminal damage and trespass, he said.

"It depends on the dollar amount of damage, on whether it's a felony or a misdemeanor-type charge," Gaffney said.

Merchant was driving south along the dirt access road next to the tracks that run along Center Street when he came upon a blockade that restricted him from getting on to Baseline Road. So he tried to cross the tracks, Freeman said.

Merchant, who said he was moving to San Diego, said he tried for 20 minutes to free the truck before the train appeared. He explained his perseverance.

“Earlier this morning, I was eating at McDonald's, and my bags got stolen in the back of my truck,” he said. “So that's the only thing I got left.”

Union Pacific Railroad will bring in a special engine to pull the nine cars back onto the tracks within 24 hours, Freeman said. The derailed cars leaned in awkward angles off the track behind a line of homes. Homeowner Sheila Hilton said car alarms went off as neighbors were jolted by a loud crash.

"Something hit, and it was a very, very loud clunk," Hilton said.

- Channel 15 News contributed to this report.

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