Fredericktown crash

Celeste Van Kirk/Observer-Reporter

Washington County’s hazardous materials team and other area agencies work at the scene of a collision between a train and truck carrying hydrochloric acid just outside Fredericktown.

Centerville Borough is among those who’ve proposed additional safety measures at an accident-prone railroad crossing where a truck hauling hydrochloric acid collided with a train last year.

The settlement – which the appointed members of the state Public Utility Commission still have to vote on – involves additional safety measures at the intersection of Route 88 and Maple Glenn Road.

PUC spokesman Nils Hagen-Frederiksen said the five-member commission will make its decision after examining records in the proceeding, which started a year ago.

“It’s dependent on the amount of time that the commission and their technical staff feel is necessary to review the case,” he added.

As part of the proposal, the borough agreed to install a sign stopping tractor-trailers on the highway from making left-hand turns from the highway onto Maple Glenn.

A truck driver for Ohio-based Kuhnle Brothers Inc. made one of those turns on March 6, 2018, just before a train on the Norfolk Southern tracks rammed his rig, spilling some 40,000 pounds of acid and prompting authorities temporarily to evacuate nearby houses and bring in a hazardous-materials team.

Borough police filed charges – including felony counts of causing and risking a catastrophe – the following month against the nonunion truck driver, Jacob T. Shank, 43, of Portage County.

Shank allegedly told police he came to a complete stop before making the turn onto Maple Glenn. Court papers said he recalled looking both ways before driving onto the crossing but didn’t see the train. He said he didn’t hear its whistle until it crashed into his rig.

Carl Parise, Shank’s defense attorney, said he reviewed the proposed settlement in the PUC proceeding, but called the crossing “inherently dangerous.”

“To blame (Shank) for the accident, in and of himself – I don’t think it’s appropriate,” Parise said.

The attorney didn’t know of criminal charges resulting from any of the five other crashes that occurred at the crossing since 1990.

“You can’t keep having these accidents and not take some safety precautions for that crossing,” he added.

Shank is free on his own recognizance. Parise said his client’s injuries were severe enough that it took almost a year before he could travel for a preliminary hearing.

Train engneer Ronald Sabo and his wife, Cindy Sabo, are pursuing a federal lawsuit against Shank and Kuhnle Brothers over injuries Ronald allegedly sustained in the crash.

The accident involving the CSX train – operated by a Norfolk Southern crew – prompted an investigation by the PUC into conditions at the crossing.

At the time of the accident, it was unclear if Maple Glenn was a public or private road. The PUC later designated it public at the borough’s request.

Earlier this year, representatives from the commission’s Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement, the state Department of Transportation, Centerville Borough and the railroad agreed to a joint settlement of the PUC proceedings.

Administrative Law Judge Mary D. Long recommended approving that deal in a May 16 filing.

Under the terms, Norfolk Southern agreed to place a 30-foot cantilever with an electronic bell. PennDOT said it would reimburse the company for costs of equipment it plans to install so that oncoming trains trigger those devices.

Along with the new sign, the borough agreed to install a continuously flashing warning signal on the highway and add stop lines on the portion of Maple Glenn that approaches the crossing.

Mon River Dock – the company that owns the property on Maple Glenn where Shank was to make a delivery – sent the PUC a letter in support of the settlement. An attorney for the firm said that it had made a separate deal to share some of the costs for the improvements with the borough.

Borough secretary-treasurer Cheryl Matesich wasn’t prepared to discuss the specifics of that arrangement.

“It hasn’t been finalized,” she said. “Until it’s finalized, I can’t comment because there’s nothing to comment on.”

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