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Posted on Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 1:53 p.m.

Driver killed in collision with train ran stop sign at railroad crossing, police say

By Danielle Arndt

The driver killed this morning in a collision with a train in Augusta Township was traveling at a high rate of speed and missed a stop sign at the railroad crossing, police said.


A 2002 Nissan Pathfinder was totaled after colliding with a cargo train this morning in Augusta Township. The driver was killed in the crash.

Angela Cesere

Police have identified the victim as 38-year-old Rudy Luna of Willis.

The conductor of the Norfolk-Southern cargo train told Michigan State Police officers that Luna was traveling southbound on McKean Road and failed to stop at the crossing’s stop sign.

“He was struck at an angle while crossing the tracks,” said MSP Trooper Duane Zook. “A freight train that heavy and that long takes a very long time to stop.”

The posted track speed in the area near McKean is 40 mph, said Norfolk-Southern spokesperson Dave Pidgeon. How fast the locomotive was traveling remains under investigation.

The Federal Railroad Administration sets the railway speeds, whereas the State Department of Transportation determines whether a rail crossing has stop signs, gates or flashers.

Pidgeon said the 4,000-foot train, which was carrying general merchandise, was average length. Of its 70 cars, 50 were loaded while 20 were empty.

Augusta Township Assistant Fire Chief Dave Music, who responded to the crash, said authorities initially were unable to determine whether the vehicle was stopped on the tracks or if the train hit the vehicle.

“Anytime a vehicle meets a train, the train usually wins,” Music said. “It was not pretty. The vehicle had been moved 30 to 40 feet. There was a lot of damage.”

Luna was pronounced dead at the scene. His 2002 Nissan Pathfinder was totaled in the collision and pieces of it were strewn about.

Music said there probably have been six or seven train-vehicle accidents in Augusta Township in the past 10 to 15 years, including a previous one near the intersection of Willis and McKean roads. That crash, however, was not fatal.


Debris, including the steering wheel from the SUV, was strewn 30 to 40 feet in the crash.

Angela Cesere

The Federal Railroad Administration’s Office of Safety Analysis reported 40 train-vehicle accidents in Michigan prior to Sept. 30. (Data for November has not been tabulated yet). Of the 40, six resulted in fatalities.

The most current data for the United States as a whole shows 1,431 rail-crossing accidents in 2011 with 191 deaths.

Fire fighters with the Augusta Township Fire Department were called to the scene at about 9:15 a.m., Music said.

He added officials with Norfolk-Southern Corp. arrived at the scene shortly after the incident occurred. The train crew and engineer were swapped out and a new crew eventually resumed operation of the train after police gave the OK.

The train originally blocked Rawsonville Road south of Bemis. The Washtenaw County Road Commission aided police in rerouting traffic from about 10:30 a.m. until a little before noon when the train was backed out of the roadway.

Pidgeon said the train was on its way again shortly after 1 p.m.

Staff reporter Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at

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Melissa Allen

Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 6:38 p.m.

I knew Rudy Luna he was a senior in McKenzie HIgh School when I was a freshman. I wandered what happened to him .He was always very nice. I am sorry for his family and will keep them in my prayers. Rest in Peace Rudy!

farm mom

Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 3:07 p.m.

This is a very sad situation. It's always sad when a loved one is lost and is such a horrible accident. However, this accident was a preventable one. Many people have listed many reasons (excuses) why this might have happened. I grew up on Rawsonville & know the area. I think that unless you are familiar with the area you should not comment. It is NOT a poorly visible area. There are NOT trees lining the railroad tracks. There are clearly visible signs indicating a railroad crossing and a CLEARLY VISIBLE STOP SIGN. I live on a dirt road now with the same kind of crossing and from my kitchen window watch people run the stop sign almost everyday. People need to slow down and obey the law. Running a stop sign is breaking the law and sadly for this man it cost him his life....not just a few points on his driving record. It makes me wonder what people are thinking when they make comments like "if we are in an unfamiliar area we may not see the stop sign until we're in the middle of the intersection " you not pay ateention to the sign that says "stop ahead" ? I think it ridiculous all these excuses. Make people accountable for the bad driving habits and maybe horrible accidents like this wouldn't happen. As far as the comment about the trains "flying" down the track....well they have the right to. That track has a speed limit of between 40mph and 60mph depending on the area. So it may SEEM like they are flying but they are obeying their speed limit laws. People need to stop blaming the railroads. There are no cossbucks at this crossing BUT there is a stop sign. If you aren't sure if a train is coming turn your radio off, put your phone down, roll down the window and ease up to look BOTH ways. Crossbucks don't stop people either ! They go around them...we've all seen that happen. I feel bad for this mans family but I feel worse for the engineer and conductor. These men are left with the traumatic aftermath.


Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 11:45 p.m.

This man, Rudy was my husbands and my best friend. He was such an incredible person with the most caring giving heart anyone could ever have. On this morning he was going to get gas so he and his girl friend (who he was planning to propose to) could go get get their Christmas tree. They were going to spend the day together. He has been working really hard to provide by the best of his abilities to his lovely children, Nikki his girl friend and her son who Rudy thought of as his own. He was not a reckless driver, I have known him for many years. Anyone who knew him knew he would give his last penny if it ment he could help someone out. He was such a strong willed person, who was self driven and highly compassionate. I am blessed to have had him be a part of our lives and been touched by his lively, outgoing, southern charm. Rudy will be missed by many, and those of us who knew him hold him dear and in our hearts forever. My prayers are for all those lives that Rudy had an impact on, especially his family and friends. We are all better people for knowing him and his life will be celebrated. God called upon him too soon, but Rudy is not gone. He is looking over each of us as he serves a higher purpose. Rudy Luna, we love you dearly and you are and always will be missed. Xoxox to all that were blessed and fortunate enough to be touched by his life.


Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 6:23 p.m.

Really does law makers need another Raise , cant we aford new crossing gates with lights at NOT the price of an Oboma toliet stool , common a couple of hillbillys could build them for 20 dollars Quit blaming drivers


Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 4:20 p.m.

Part 2 Rudy just spoke too my dad Thursday night saying ill be over Saturday to pick up the last of my stuff and visit for awhile he told my dad that he's pulling 7 days a week 12 hr days and been going 2 collage on a full time setting 4 year signing My dad wanted everyone to know that Rudy said he was pushing so hard because he wanted to better himself for his family sake he leaves behind 4 children and a wonderful girlfriend ,, Rudy just bought that suv for his daughter and planed to give it 2 her on her up and coming birthday when she could drive it Being next door to my dad for 5 years , dad stated ,, put in this for me ,,Rudy always left early for work and collage u could set a clock by the man and he always left way early then he needed to too reach his destination , he never drove fast period and not the risk taker of jumping the tracks Rudy was a southern boy that always did the best for anybody whether or not he knew you ,he was one of the few you could count on and for the ones mapping and arguing its McKean and Willis and if. If he was just setting on the tracks the suv had to of broken down , he wasn't trying to end it all ,,,, 2 his other friends , I hope this helps ,, and to his family he was just talking to mom about praying for her,,,, God bless and with MUCH MUCH LOVE with a heavy heart ..............


Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 4:18 p.m.

Part 1 If you've lived there and ever crossed those tracks in that 10 mile train track stretch you'd know that the trains fly thru there , when u cross those tracks at that very place at night Willis is so lit up that you can't tell if it's a train or building lights down the track , I alone feared those tracks because of that and in the last 40 years have lost 4 friends and 3 others have been hit by trains in that stretch of train trunk along the Milan, Wayne co, area ....Rudy ,thank you for helping my elderly parents when I couldn't be there , and watching their house while the visit me in Hillsdale ,and being a friend and my mom and dad's neighbor ,,,and friend ,the family just lost their home thanks to a crooked bank, there house was given away out from underneath them 5 months ago without ever letting them know , the bank told them if they got behind 4 payments the Obama plan would kick in , well being strapped , they were already 3 payment behind and listened to the very bank that gave , gave , gave it to hud for a full tax write off , and only served them with an eviction notice ,instead of fighting it they just move 2 Willis ,,,2months ago sad, sad, sad ,,,


Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 3:31 p.m.

My heart goes out to the Luna family. (although I didn't know the family) I know the area well as I was born on Mc Kean Rd. as well as several family members. Lived on Rawsonville and Martz as well as Bemis and Rawsonville. It has always been a rural road. Personally now, with Agusta Woods being big in the Rawsonville, McKean area. More traffic of course, there should be lights, and guards installed. Is this going to happen? This area is a Lincoln school bus route. Thank Got the drivers always stop, look and listen. My condolences go to the family and friends in this tragic accident.

Jamie Riddle

Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 1:36 p.m.

I am sorry for the Luna families loss and my prayers are with them. I wish them the best of luck in this hard time. I understand that what happened is what had happened and that everyone wants to try to figure out what could have possible caused such a horrible thing to happen. I for one, have traveled this crossing numerous times when I used to deliver pizza in this area. I can say without a doubt that this crossing has the typical RR crossing sign and a stop sign at it, it also (heading south on McKean) has a sign about 1/4 to 1/2 of a mile away that is round, yellow and says railroad crossing on it. The other thing that is a huge key factor when coming toward that particular RR crossing is that there a a big incline in the road, where the RR tracks sit a lot higher than the road, so therefore that should be some type of clue when approaching this crossing. I have pulled up a &quot;streetview&quot; from Google maps and granted they don't &quot;streetview&quot; the dirt roads, you can see this crossing in the picture. When you look down McKean Rd. (to the north from Willis Rd.) you can see how wooded the area is, along with the incline there is approaching the RR tracks. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Jim Osborn

Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 12:32 p.m.

This is rural dirt road crossing railroad tracks, with no lights or crossing arms. It appears to be poorly marked and difficult to see A driver expects a stop sign at a normal intersection, a railroad crossing does not appear to be such. Since there was snow on the ground, any pavement markings would be covered. Since this is a dirt road, there would be none. While I have not driven to this crossing, I doubt that the signs at a dirt road crossing are new and visible. The American style cross buck is gray, and up in the sky, matching the gray skies. German ones are bright white and red and easy to see. This can be exacerbated when a driver heads south with the morning sun in his eyes. There are farm fields around; the train was heading from the east. So the sun would have been in the southeast, the direction that the driver would need to look to see it. If he was new to the area, he most likely had no idea that he was approaching a crossing. If he was familiar with the crossing, then he knew that most of the time no train came. The bright sun at this time of day discouraged him from seeing the train if he chose to run the stop sign. I'm sure that if he knew that a train was coming, he would have made a different choice. European crossings are much better marked and easier to see, especially passive crossings. American crossings should be as well, and it does not cost very much to do so. If lights are added, they need to be bright LEDs that the police use, not dime ones from the 1940s that need to be aimed in a narrow range. While blaming the victim is the easy way out for railroads and cities to avoid lawsuits, the smart thing is to design better crossings. Germans do so already. So should we.

Jim Osborn

Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 12:11 p.m.

Actually, it does matter to a victim's family how and why he died. Knowing that many factors in the railroad crossing design contributed to his death and not the victim being reckless and trying to &quot;beat-the-train&quot;, as some have said, can bring relief to the victim's family. It did for our family after our mother died at a crossing where 3 others had died and 9 other accidents had occurred. All the train company and city did, to protect their legal interests, was to blame the victim in well rehearsed phrases, including "She tried to beat-the-train" read my 7:30 AM posting for a possible explanation as to why this man ran the stop sign, from a human factor engineering point of view.


Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 5:49 a.m.

In our lives as drivers we all make mistakes. We don't see a stop sign in an unfamilar area until we are in the middle of the intersection. We come to a stop sign and we look right and forget to look left and pull out. Maybe 99 times out of 100 it means nothing more than a heart racing moment for the driver. But that 1 out of hundred means some family out there is having the worst day of their life. I lost my 14 year cousin who forget to look both ways when he drove his 4 wheeler across a double track. The depth of his parents and sisters pain was beyond description. To the Luna family I can say Faith got our family through and will yours too, even though that is hard to see now. God bless you and give his strength during this time.


Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 4:12 a.m.

please be kind with your words i worked with this man. i just talked to him last night and for him not to be there sucks RIP Rudy


Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 3:28 p.m.

I'm sorry for your loss Danny


Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 2:32 a.m.

I live in the Augusta township area, and know the family.. Please be gentle with your comments, as this family lost a father, husband, son brother, Uncle, and Friend. At this point it does not matter to the loved ones who was at fault. All they know is the pain of losing a loved one in this manner. Please when you are posting your comments .. just stop and think, what of what of how you would feel if it were you! Thank you!

Jim Osborn

Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 12:12 p.m.

Actually, it does matter to a victim's family how and why he died. Knowing that many factors in the railroad crossing design contributed to his death and not the victim being reckless and trying to &quot;beat-the-train&quot;, as some have said, can bring relief to the victim's family. It did for our family after our mother died at a crossing where 3 others had died and 9 other accidents had occurred. All the train company and city did, to protect their legal interests, was to blame the victim in well rehearsed phrases, including "She tried to beat-the-train" read my 7:30 AM posting for a possible explanation as to why this man ran the stop sign, from a human factor engineering point of view.

Silly Sally

Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 11:45 a.m.

Far too many are assuming that he saw the crossing and the train. Others have pointed out that it is poorly marked, on a dirt road, with no lights or gate. THEY ARE BLAMING THE VICTIM


Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 12:56 a.m.

Having survived car-train crash, I can assure you that not everyone is &quot;racing to get across&quot;. I only saw the approaching train, after looking both ways, when I was bridging the tracks and impact was imminent. The single white light looked just like the nearby street lights on a very dark night. The crossing where I was hit was marked only by wooden crossbucks. I was lucky in that the Conrail train impacted directly on my rear axle, behind my seat, or I would have simply been a statistic as well. The responding officer was so convinced I had been racing the train, that he cited me, while I was still lying flat on my back in the emergency room. Thanks loads, officer. (After two more accidents there in a relatively short period, both fatalities, they closed the crossing to vehicle traffic.)

Daniel Soebbing

Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 4:33 p.m.

I know the big freight trains that ply the cross-country routes between the west coast and Chicago usually sport engines with a cluster of three very bright headlights. It is difficult to mistake these for street lights. Perhaps these should be made standard for all trains, if they are not already.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 11:35 p.m.

The crass and uncaring comments re: this article are disgusting. Are people so desensitized to tragedy that they have to joke about this terrible accident? There is absolutely no excuse for anyone to make jokes when someone loses their life. Likewise complaining about the reporting. Unbelievable.


Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 12:11 a.m.

Well said justcurious.

Jim Osborn

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 10:05 p.m.

This appears to be a rural dirt road crossing railroad tracks, with no lights or crossing arms. Railroad crossings in general are often poorly marked are poorly marked and too hard to see, expecially rural ones. This can be exacerbated when a driver heads south with the morning sun in his eyes. European crossings are much better marked and easier to see, especially passive crossings. It is quite possible that this driver did not realize that he was upon a crossing until to late. The railroads and police often will blame the victim, making statements such as &quot;he tried to beat the train&quot; when in reality, the driver had know idea that a train was approaching. The solutions are fairly straight forward and simple, with brighter signs and lights. Germans use them now. Americans will need to if we plan on moving to high speed rail or tragedys such as this will escalate.

Jamie Riddle

Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 1:19 a.m.

This is also a densely wooded area, so at that time I highly doubt the sun being in the drivers eyes. I feel extremely bad for the victim and family and am not trying to be insensitive to the subject, just stating the facts about the area.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 9:11 p.m.

Ouch! re, "...traveling at a high rate of speed," though, I suppose if it's a quote from the police, they can leave it -- and cops do love to talk like that, it sounds important -- but it's worth knowing that plain old "high speed" is more accurate. High speed is just that: high speed. "A high rate of speed" actually refers to acceleration. I'll let off the hook on this one, since they claim it's a quote.


Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 3:26 p.m.

Seriously??! Your focus is on semantics when someone has lost his life? Instead of offering condolences, you offer a lecture on the misuse of a four-word phrase?


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 9:23 p.m.

ouch? really?


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 8:47 p.m.

I'm so sorry to hear of this tragedy and I'll be thinking about the Luna family as well as those that were on the train.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 8:32 p.m.

I dont think people realize just how dangerous this is. Topgear did a demonstration of it for BBC <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Jamie Riddle

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 8:29 p.m., can we please update the map on the story? You are showing Textile Rd. where there used to be a railroad crossing about 20 years ago. I know where the accident was at, but others not so fimilar with the area can be confused by your map not being accurate.

Jamie Riddle

Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 4:29 a.m.

The map is more accurate, although the intersection of the train tracks and McKean roads are north of Willis Rd. Please, try to do a better job at putting accurate maps up, if you are going to do so to show locations of stories. Being a media outlet with people depending upon reliable and accurate information, it shouldn't be so difficult to make sure the maps are accurate.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 8:28 p.m.

I feel sorry for the train engineer. It's not his fault but he has to live with it.


Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 1:20 a.m.

I drive a school bus and hope no one does to me either. Trust me, either way, someone is going to loose as well. We all need to share the road.

Jamie Riddle

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 8:31 p.m.

I drive a truck for a living and pray no one ever does anything like this to me. The end result could be the same depending on the circumstances.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 8:28 p.m.

Your article title is blaming the victim...I don't care what the police said or didn't say...this family is suffering a great loss so don't pile on the condolences.


Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 9 p.m.

Actually it is just presenting the FACTS. How is that bad? The car ran the stop sign. It does not place a value judgement on it. Is your position that the train sped up to hit him? Was the train stopped and then said ram the truck? Even if you make the total assumption that he stopped fully, that does not mean you can go right away. It means stop until the train or oncoming traffic has passed. YOU are actually the one speculating (which is against policy) when you mention a stuck accelerator. There is zero evidence of that. If I make the leap that it was a stuck accelerator that would still be on the driver for not having a properly functioning automobile.


Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 5:59 p.m.

The headline doesn't give any assumption as to &quot;why&quot; the motorist ran the stop sign, simply that it happened. Good reporting conveys all the facts in a story. The train hit the car because the car did not yield at the stop sign. It doesn't say &quot;the driver chose to run the stop sign&quot; does it?


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 9:12 p.m.

@JS no, assumptions are not important and we should not draw any conclusions until the investigation is completed....what if the deceased motorist had a stuck accelerator...we don't know so to blatantly place blame on the deceased is unfair to the family as well as a violation of posting guide lines...but the moderator probably agrees with your point so it's okay.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 8:40 p.m.

I feel horrible for the family, but isn't it kind of important to know why this tragedy happened?

Liesel Wardle

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 8:24 p.m.

How horrible! Our thoughts and prayers are with the Luna family!


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 7:46 p.m.

Literally, just as I was going to post, updated info appeared. It doesn't surprise me to find the driver was trying to cross the tracks. I used to live very close to there and people do it all the time. Why anyone feels the need to beat a train and think that truly can can is beyond me (or even a yellow light) . It just isn't worth your life. I am truly sorry for the family.

Silly Sally

Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 11:40 a.m.

Why does @lisam think that this driver &quot;feels the need to beat a train&quot;? She is assuming that he saw the crossing and the train. Othere have point out that it is poorly marked, on a dirt road, with no lights or gate. SHE IS BLAMING THE VICTIM


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 7:48 p.m.

&quot;double can&quot; in error. No time to critique typos, please. This is a sad day for the family.

West of Main

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 7:33 p.m.

The pics are a little morbid.


Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 1:18 a.m.

Should have seen the pictures they showed us when we started bus driving. Another reason we stop at tracks. The pictures of those children will remain forever as part of why we need to stop for trains because they cannot stop. So sad to read another story of train vs car.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 9:56 p.m.

I also think the pictures are a lesson on why no one should try to outrun a train at a crossing. The results speak for themselves.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 9:01 p.m.

They're not morbid at all, it's just wreckage of the vehicle. It's like we see wrecked body parts.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 8:37 p.m.

I wouldn't say gratuitous at all. I think it simply shows how violently powerful getting hit by a freight train can be. That photo definitely expressed the (implied) point about how careful one needs to be when at a train crossing, and although people should just know that already, apparently some do not.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 8:34 p.m.

If the morbid photos scare even one person into not trying to beat a train then it is worth it.

West of Main

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 7:45 p.m.

Point taken, but doesn't the steering wheel photo seem just a bit gratuitous?


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 7:43 p.m.

Well, the accident was morbid.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 7:28 p.m.

&quot;Authorities initially were unable to determine whether the vehicle was stopped on the tracks or if the train hit the motorist.&quot; &quot;or if the train hit the motorist&quot;? What does that mean? Are they implying the motorist was outside of the car? The car was obviously hit, so the last part of this statement makes no sense. The vehicle was on the tracks, obviously, with the driver inside. Confusing statement.

Fat Bill

Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 5:42 p.m.

I have to agree with Sallyxyz; it's not like the train swerved out of the lane. I assume the writer was referring to whether the vehicle was in the path of the train or whether the train was in the path of the vehicle. Amateur evaluation of the top photo would lead me to believe the car had just entered the path in front of the train, was struck on the left front and tossed aside. I would expect that if the car barelled into the side of the train that there would be damage on the left rear as the vehicle spun around.