Thomas O’Neal Ruff drove his diesel truck in Bartow, Florida into the path of a CSX train on Wednesday morning, sources indicate. The truck burst into flames, killing the truck driver and sparking a fire that took over three hours to quench. Police and CSX are both investigating to determine whether the train followed federal regulations by sounding the horn before crossing the road. It is not yet known whether charges will be filed.
The truck was on its way back from delivering diesel fuel to Mosaic’s phosphate mining operations, located near Bonnie Mine road and US Highway 60. The accident occurred on a private road owned by Mosaic that crossed the train tracks at approximately 10:00 a.m.
It is not currently clear whether the truck driver simply didn’t see the train or if there were other factors at play. At any rate, the truck driver apparently drove the diesel truck, which still contained some fuel in its 300,000-gallon tank, into the path of the freight train. The train, pulling 2 empty box cars and 3 cars filled with fatty acids bound for Mosaic and driven by a Mosaic contract worker, hit the truck and pushed it approximately 100 yards down the track. The truck burst into flames.
Ruff was killed in the accident; authorities or not entirely sure whether he died on impact or as a result of the fire. His remains were in such poor condition that officials had to perform an autopsy to identify him. The three workers on the train were unscathed. It is not yet clear whether Ruff’s family plans to file a wrongful death suit.
Firefighters responding to the scene were hampered by the fact that there are no fire hydrants in the rural area. Using foam and water brought in through a relay system, firefighters were able to stop the flames, but the smoke from the fire was so thick that officials closed State Road 60 for approximately 1 hour so that the smoke would not cause an accident. One firefighter suffered minor injuries when her foot was burned due to a hole in her boot, but her injuries did not require a hospital visit.
Environmental concerns have emerged because of the diesel fuel that spilled onto the ground. Authorities will reportedly conduct soil sample checks and take precautions to ensure that the fuel does not harm surrounding wildlife. “We will take whatever precautions necessary to make sure there are no long-lasting impacts to the environment,” said Brad Ruhmann, a Polk County spokesperson, to the press.
Meanwhile, investigators are working to determine whether the train sounded its’ horn as it approached the property, as required by law. Because the crossing was on Mosaic property, crossbars, lights and warning signals were not required, but the train is still required to sound its’ horn twice – one short sound and one long sound – as it approaches a crossing, private or public. A device on the train that records the train’s speed and activities will be used to determine the speed of the train at the time of the crash, as well as other rel