RALEIGH — N.C. Department of Transportation officials will examine the safety of a railroad crossing south of downtown where a woman was killed when her sports utility vehicle was struck by an Amtrak train early Wednesday evening.
DOT officials think the victim, Lynette Renee Fowler of Fuquay Varina cut across a gravel area just off Hammond Road to avoid the railroad’s crossing arms and gate near the intersection of Hoke Street, said Paul C. Worley, acting director of the DOT’s rail division.
Emergency workers pronounced Fowler dead at the scene. It was her 42nd birthday, according to a police accident report made public Thursday.
The accident was reported just after 5 p.m. Wednesday at the railroad crossing on South Blount Street, near the intersection of Hoke Street.
Fowler was behind the wheel of a 1999 Chevrolet SUV that was sitting in a gravel parking lot that runs alongside the railroad track. Amtrak’s Carolinian, which runs between New York and Charlotte, was traveling northwest when the crossing arms came down and warning lights began flashing.
Witnesses told police that instead of pulling up to the intersection of Hoke and South Blount streets, the vehicle cut across the gravel parking lot and into the path of the train.
No injuries were reported among the train’s passengers.
Worley said it is standard procedure for DOT officials to investigate the site of any railroad crossing accident.
He said DOT officials will study the location of Wednesday’s accident to determine if any changes have occurred at the railroad crossing since it was last upgraded in 1994.
Railroad crossing arms with flashing lights are positioned north of the track on Hoke Street and south of the crossing on South Blount Street. Police reported that Fowler’s SUV was sitting in a graveled area between the two railroad crossings before it slowly rolled at 8 mph onto the South Blount Street railroad track and into the path of the Amtrak train traveling 60 mph.
Worley emphasized that it is important that motorists adhere to the crossing arms and flashing lights at railroad crossings.
“Stay off the tracks, stay off the tracks and then, stay off the tracks,” Worley said. “The fact is, at the end of the day we can make (railroad crossings) safe, but it’s up to the driver.”
Transportation Secretary Tony Tata said Thursday there have been 10 rail accidents and five fatalities statewide since the beginning of the year. That’s much worse than historic trends, he said while speaking at the monthly Board of Transportation meeting.
“We believe one crash in the state is too many,” Tata said. “And so we are working on a comprehensive rail safety campaign. I asked to see the trends from accidents and fatalities for past years, and we are already above that glide path. So we’ve got to find a way to bend that (trend) back downward to no accidents and no fatalities.”
Police investigators have requested an autopsy report to determine if alcohol or drugs played a role in the crash, according to the accident report.
Also, court records show Fowler was scheduled to appear in Wake County District Court on May 24 to answer charges of felony embezzlement.
Cary police accused Fowler on May 23 of embezzling around $30,000 from her former employer, the Chet Adams Co., Inc.
Investigators think Fowler began embezzling the funds on Oct. 28, 2010, and continued until March 22, 2012, court records show. She was released from the Wake County jail after posting a $5,000 bond.
The Chet Adams firm represents chemical manufacturers and contractors. Company officials could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.
Staff Writer Bruce Siceloff contributed to this report.