Via train crash with truck kills dad, daughters

John Baxter was driving his daughters to school Tuesday when their truck was hit by a Via Rail passenger train at a level crossing in Edmonton, killing all three.
Emergency personnel stand beside the wreckage of the Baxter's truck after the collision on Tuesday morning. ((CBC))

John Baxter was driving his daughters to school Tuesday when their truck was hit by a Via Rail passenger train at a level crossing in Edmonton, killing all three.

The crash occurred around 8:40 a.m. MT north of the intersection of Winterburn Road and 111th Avenue, in a west Edmonton industrial park.

James Baxter told CBC News his brother, a father of three, always drove his girls — Julianne Rose, 9, and Coral Sky, 7 — to Winterburn School.

Tuesday morning was no different, he said.

"We are still in shock," Baxter said.

"His wife [Alana] saw them all off this morning and then we heard from the school that the kids didn't make it into school," Baxter said.

"So Alana went out looking for them 'cause she knew the route."

When she got to the Winterburn Road railway crossing, she saw emergency vehicles and soon found out her two children and husband were dead, Baxter said.

'When the train left, there was no vehicle'

Karyn Hick, a witness to the collision, was driving northbound on Winterburn Road when she stopped at the railway crossing. Just before the train arrived, she saw a southbound truck that stopped and was then struck.

"There was a loud bang, like a door being slammed … I [saw] it flying through the air and then when the train left, there was no vehicle there," she said. "I thought it was in my imagination." 

The wreckage of the truck landed in a nearby ditch. It was damaged so badly that police couldn't immediately determine the make of the vehicle.

There were 227 passengers and 26 crew members on board the train en route to Vancouver from Toronto.

The train stopped at the scene and passengers were kept on board until it was allowed to continue on to Vancouver around 1 p.m., according to Via Rail spokeswoman Catherine Kaloutsky. The train sustained minor damage in the crash.

Baxter father was 'good family man'

James Baxter said it's hard to accept that his brother and nieces are dead.

Julianne Rose was in Grade 4 and Coral Sky was in Grade 2 at Winterburn School, an elementary and junior high school in the city's west end.

"They were two real beautiful, bright little girls [who] loved to have fun," Baxter said. 

"They laughed a lot, they smiled a lot. They were good kids. They didn't deserve this."

Baxter described his brother, who owned Yellowhead Self Storage on 118 Avenue, as a loving father who would spend his summers with his family at Alberta Beach.

He and his wife, Alana, also have a 2½-year-old son, John Jr.

"[John] was an avid sports fan. He was a season ticket holder with the Edmonton Oilers. He liked going to the Edmonton Eskimo games," his brother said.

"He was a good family man."

Via to examine train's data recorder

Via Rail will be examining data from an on-board data recorder which functions in the same manner as a black box recorder on an airplane.

"The information from that event recorder will be downloaded when the train arrives into Jasper," Kaloutsky said.

"That's the next place where we can actually do a download and then we'll be reviewing that information."

Trains usually travel at a rate of 95 to 110 kilometres an hour along that portion of track, she said.

Hick said the warning signals and gate were working when she approached the crossing. Police are checking to see if the signals on the other side were operating.

"CN is going to be inspecting those crossing arms and controls," said Sgt. Brad Manz from the Edmonton police.

"It's undetermined yet whether the southbound crossing arms were in fact working, whether the individual was able to stop due to the slippery road conditions, whether or not the crossing arm was struck. That will be forthcoming as the investigation proceeds."

Investigators suggest poor visibility and slushy road conditions caused by a snowstorm were also a factor.