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The wreckage of a fertilizer spreader lies off Greenbrier Road after it collided with a freight train at the Limestone County crossing Friday. The driver of the farm equipment, Gerald Jernigan, 67, of Athens, died in the accident. Nobody aboard the train was hurt.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
The wreckage of a fertilizer spreader lies off Greenbrier Road after it collided with a freight train at the Limestone County crossing Friday. The driver of the farm equipment, Gerald Jernigan, 67, of Athens, died in the accident. Nobody aboard the train was hurt.

Farm worker killed in wreck with train
Accident occurs on Greenbrier Road in Limestone; Athens victim was volunteer firefighter, father of 6

By Seth Burkett
sburkett@decaturdaily.com 340-2355

BELLE MINA — A train collided with a piece of farm equipment Friday afternoon, killing a Clements firefighter and longtime Limestone Farmer's Cooperative employee.

Gerald Dean Jernigan, 67, of Athens was using an Ag-Chem Terra-Gator to spread fertilizer on fields south of the railroad tracks, co-workers said.

Segers Volunteer Fire Department Chief Don Spencer said Jernigan appeared to be crossing the tracks heading north at 3 p.m. on Greenbrier Road, north of Interstate 65 in Limestone County, when the collision with the westbound train took place.

Britt Christopher, co-op fertilizer manager, said Jernigan had run out of chemicals and was returning to refill his tank at a pumping station.

Upon arrival, emergency personnel found Jernigan's lifeless body trapped in the mangled machinery lying on the north side the tracks, a short distance west of the roadway.

"He was pinned under the wreckage," Spencer said. "He was thrown clear of the cab and it rolled over on him."

The three-wheel spreader was equipped with seat belts, but Jernigan was not wearing one, troopers said.

The engine had stopped about one-fourth of a mile from the intersection. No one aboard the train was injured.

Spencer said warning signals at the crossing appeared to be working.

As she surveyed the wreckage, Patricia Jernigan wept for her father-in-law and for his wife, Linda, and the two sons and four daughters he leaves behind.

"He was an awesome man," she said. "He was a family man and a godly man. He would have given you the shirt off his back. It's hard to believe that things like this happen to good people like him."

Gerald Jernigan, who worked for the co-op for more than 20 years, was well liked and a hard-worker, Christopher said.

'A good guy'

"He was a cut-up, a good guy. He always had something he was stirring up, and I mean that in a good way. He was a good person," he said.

Jernigan also served as a volunteer firefighter in Clements.

"He'd been with us about a year, but everybody got pretty attached to him," said Clements Fire Chief Jessie Rager. "A volunteer service is pretty much a big family. He was a very good guy, very well-liked by everybody."

Jernigan co-coached a team of younger firefighters preparing for the Alabama Association of Volunteer Fire Departments' annual competition.

"We'd never had a team before. They were preparing for the competition in August, and he'd been out there training with them every Sunday afternoon. It's very physical, and I'm too old to do it. Gerald's like me, he couldn't compete in it, but he was very active in helping them train for it," Rager said.

Fire stations across the county lowered their flags to half-staff in Jernigan's memory Friday evening.

Segers volunteer firefighters had responded to the scene along with emergency personnel from Madison and Huntsville.

"It's always tragic, but it's even worse when it's one of your own," said Rager.

Because the tank was empty, the wreck did not create a hazardous materials situation. Only a small amount of diesel fuel spilled.

The tracks and roadway were clear shortly after 7 p.m.

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