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WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 21, 2007
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Tanker left road, crashed into train
Coroner uses tattoo to identify lone victim

By Deangelo McDaniel
dmcdaniel@decaturdaily.com 340-2469

LACON — Authorities were trying to determine Tuesday why a propane truck apparently left the roadway and struck a train outside the railroad crossing Monday.

Morgan County Coroner Russ Beard said a tattoo positively identified the man found in the burned gas truck as Eric Vinson, 31, of Jasper.

Vinson died when the AmeriGas truck he was driving collided with the train near the CSX crossing on Wilhite Road south of Falkville, near the Cullman County line.

Alabama Department of Public Safety spokesman Paul Mashburn said Vinson's truck was traveling west on Wilhite Road.

For some reason, his truck apparently left the road and hit the moving train, which included two locomotives and 55 cars.

Mashburn said the collision occurred outside the crossing area.

The CSX crossing, which is at the bottom of a steep hill, has flashing lights and crossing arms.

No skid marks

There were no skid marks on the road at the crossing, and the crossing arms were not damaged.

CSX investigators were back on the scene Tuesday morning, measuring distances and looking closely at the tracks.

The train did not derail and the conductor was not injured.

There was visible evidence of the truck hitting the side of the tracks, one investigator said.

An emergency official said the crossing arms were up, but that the lights were blinking when she arrived on the scene shortly after the accident.

The victim's truck rested on the driver side east of the tracks about 1,000 feet south of the crossing.

Morgan County Emergency Management Agency Director Eddie Hicks said the truck, which has a 3,000-pound capacity, was carrying about 2,000 pounds of propane.

"It would have been difficult for anyone to stop coming down that hill with 2,000 pounds of gas," said AmeriGas Manager Larry Harris of Jasper.

Vinson's truck erupted in flames after the collision and his body was badly burned, authorities said.

"But one of his arms was not burned, and we were able to use a tattoo to identify him," Beard said.

Firefighters from 28 departments spent Monday controlling the blaze with a foggy mist, Hicks said.

"There was nothing we could do to stop the propane from burning," Hicks said. "We tried to keep the truck as cool as possible."

Beard said the truck was "very hot" when he arrived on the scene, making the removal of the body "very difficult." He pronounced Vinson dead at the scene at 11:45 p.m., about 12 hours after the accident.

Harris and four AmeriGas employees huddled most of Monday about one-half mile from the crash site.

Vinson's wife, Lisa, came to the scene later in the evening and stayed until Beard was able to identify her husband.

Vinson and his wife lived in Jasper with their children.

By early Tuesday morning, investigators had removed the truck and debris from the tracks and trains were running again.

The truck's front bumper, which was trapped under one of the train cars before CSX officials separated the train and moved it south and north, remained at the scene.

The freight train was traveling from Indianapolis to Birmingham when the accident occurred, CSX spokesman Bob Sullivan said.

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