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Witness: Truck Driver May Have Tried To Beat Train

July 2, 1986

VALLEY FALLS, Kan. (AP) _ Damage was estimated at $1 million after a propane truck collided with a freight train in a fiery accident that killed three people and injured two others.

The truck driver, who was alone, and two train crew members were killed in the accident Tuesday on the edge of this small town, 25 miles northeast of Topeka. Two crewmen were listed in fair condition with burns at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Topeka.

Three locomotives and nine cars of the 43-car Santa Fe Railway train derailed, said Bill Heath, an assistant general manager of the railroad.

Witnesses disagreed about whether the truck driver had tried to stop and about whether crossing lights were working at the intersection.

Dick Pearse, a sales representative for Holton Transport Co., which owned the truck, identified the driver as Jerry McGuffin, 48, of Holton.

Railroad officials identified the dead crewmen as the engineer, Kevin Henry of Lawrence, and head brakeman, Robert H. Winter of Topeka. Both men were riding in the first engine.

Frank Smith, Santa Fe superintendent in Kansas City, estimated damage at more than $1 million.

Susan Metcalf, a spokeswoman for the railroad in Chicago, said the train was hauling mostly grain products and scrap metal and did not contain any hazardous material. It was returning to Topeka from St. Joseph, Mo., when the accident occurred, she said.

The trailer carrying the propane tank rocketed almost 950 feet from the point of impact. The truck cab came to rest in a ditch more than 200 feet away.

The 40-foot-long tanker spewed flame reaching a height of about 100 feet, said John Cory, who was at a nearby gas station.

″Our house shook and I thought we’d been through an earthquake,″ said Judy Rider, whose husband, Dr. James Rider, is the county deputy coroner and helped treat the injured at the scene.

Fire departments from Valley Falls and surrounding communities extinguished the fire in the tanker and the three engines in about 30 minutes, authorities said.

Part of the town of about 1,200 people was without electricity for a few hours because power lines were burned.

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