A total of 22 Norfolk Southern freight cars jumped the tracks outside Ravenna just after 7 p.m. Tuesday night.
“This train, my God, it’s derailed. It’s up in our yard, garage and everything. Oh man, I mean, it’s everywhere,” one of the witnesses told the dispatcher after calling 911.
Chuck Knight lives along the tracks and says he was watching fireworks lighting up the sky just before Tuesday night’s college football game in Kent when something went terribly wrong on the tracks.
“The train came blazing through and there was a big bang. I turned and looked. I saw a wheel flying through the air, it looked like a wheel, and then I took off running. The train started coming off the tracks, the cars going every which way,” Knight said.
As the rail cars slid off the tracks, Knight’s first thought was to run and warn his longtime friend and neighbor, 76 year old Butch McEwen, about the danger he was in.
“I was sitting in my house. My whole house shook, I thought we were having an earthquake. He comes running in the back door and we went out the front, he said ‘Come on and get the hell out of here,'” said McEwen.
One of the cars smashed into McEwen’s shed and another hit Knight’s boat.
“It just ate the boat like it was a cookie, just crushed it right to pieces,” said Knight.
Fortunately, there were no hazardous materials in any of the cars that derailed.
Some of the cars were carrying rock salt and others were carrying brand new cars, trucks and SUVs.
The rock salt is being salvaged, but in an odd twist, as part of the cleanup by Norfolk Southern and contractors, most of the new vehicles will be destroyed and hauled away as scrap.
“Because they’ve never been titled and they’ve been involved in an accident, so they can’t be resold,” Ravenna Township Trustee Jim DiPaola said.
Work crews are now repairing the stretch of track where the derailment happened, but there’s no timetable on when repairs and the removal of the derailed cars will be completed.
As far as an exact cause of the derailment, that is now the focus of an investigation by the Federal Railroad Administration.
The accident could have been much worse.
Norfolk Southern says the train, traveling from Bellevue, Ohio to Conway, Pennsylvania, had a total of 237 freight cars and four engines.
Knight is actually a former rail worker and witnessed a 1997 derailment that killed several people.
He and his friend Butch McEwen are amazed that they were so close to Tuesday’s derailment and survived without a scratch.
“We just thank God that we’re safe,” McEwen said.
“I’m going to win that $1.2 billion [in the lottery],” he added with a laugh. “I feel that lucky.”