DADE CITY — Witnesses said it sounded like a sonic boom.
A CSX train slammed into a Helena Chemical Co. truck Tuesday morning, sending the truck's driver and one of the train's conductors to the hospital. The collision derailed 17 of the train's 77 cars and destroyed several hundred feet of railroad track.
The accident happened just after 11 a.m. According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Kim Nagelhout, 51, a Helena employee, was turning into the company's driveway off Old Lakeland Highway, southeast of downtown Dade City.
A CSX train heading north on tracks that cut across the driveway struck the right side of Nagelhout's truck. The train wasn't carrying any cargo.
Nagelhout, of Zephyrhills, was airlifted to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa with serious injuries. He was treated and released about 5 p.m., according to FHP.
Willie Brown, 52, one of the train's two engineers, was transported to Florida Hospital Zephyrhills with minor injuries. The other conductor suffered only bumps and bruises, according to FHP.
Misti Keene, a Helena employee, ran to the scene after hearing a "big boom."
She saw rescue workers pulling Nagelhout out of the truck.
"I don't know if he didn't see (the train) or what," Keene said. "It's just a big mess out there."
The accident is still under investigation, but trains generally have the right of way, said Sgt. Steve Gaskins of the Florida Highway Patrol.
"Drivers have to be aware," he said.
"There's no sudden stopping for a train."
There are no electronic railroad crossing arms where the train tracks intersect Helena's driveway, but several signs warn drivers to stop and look both ways before crossing.
The accident occurred just north of where Robert Stephens, 79, died last October after his car was hit by a train at an unguarded crossing.
Iris Helveston, 66, was taking out her trash Tuesday when the train struck Nagelhout's vehicle. She lives about two blocks from the tracks. Trains chug by multiple times each day, but this one sounded different.
There was a grinding, screeching sound, she said. And then a loud boom.
"I turned around and saw the black cars jumping," she said. "They were just flopping in the air."
The train came to a final stop about 500 feet north of the collision. A dust cloud as high as the power lines rose over the 17 derailed cars that leaned on either side of the tracks.
Rescue workers kept spectators away from the wreckage. They were afraid the components that helped connect the precariously balanced cars could snap under the pressure.
Gaskins of the FHP said the accident may have been worse if the train had been loaded down with cargo. The extra weight would have made it harder for the train to stop, he said.
Gaskins expected the cleanup process could take at least 24 hours and would affect train traffic throughout the region.
Helen Anne Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 435-7312.