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Four Women Killed by Coal Train

April 2, 2002

STEELE CITY, Neb. (AP) _ Four elderly women returning from a church salad supper were killed at a railroad crossing when their car was struck by a fast-moving freight train, police said Tuesday.

The women, aged 80 to 95, were going to their homes in nearby Fairbury when the accident occurred Monday night, Jefferson County Sheriff Rex Southwick said.

Lorene Ruhnke, 80, was driving. Also killed were Marie Wehling, 95, Pauline Blacksher, 84, and Sarah Henkel, 88.

The car stopped at the crossing, which had stop signs but no mechanical arms, and then continued across the tracks, Southwick said.

Two crew members on the empty 119-car Union Pacific coal train saw the car and applied the brakes 580 feet from the crossing, railroad spokesman Mark Davis said. He said the train was traveling about 55 mph and could not stop until 320 feet beyond the crash.

``There was really nothing they could do,″ Davis said.

Southwick said ``all the whistles and everything″ were working on the train. The women were wearing seat belts and the car’s air bags deployed.

Steele City is about 60 miles southwest of Lincoln, near the Nebraska-Kansas state line.

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