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Train crashes into vehicle in Dickinson

Press Photo by Ashley Martin A vehicle was hit by a train in Dickinson early Friday morning, caught fire and was towed to the East End Auto car lot, where it sat Friday afternoon. No one was injured.

A Dickinson woman narrowly escaped her vehicle before a train plowed into it near Sixth Avenue Southeast, according to the Dickinson Police Department.

"It looks like she may have got out of the vehicle seconds prior to the collision, according to witnesses, so she got very lucky there's no doubt," said DPD Capt. Joe Cianni. "They (the train crew) didn't even see the car."

No one was injured during the incident, which began when Sheri Whitworth drove onto the train tracks just before 1:30 a.m. and her vehicle became stuck, he said.

"The car was not at a crossing, it was on the railroad tracks and just generally, it takes the average train more than a mile to come to a stop," said Amy McBeth, Burlington Northern Santa Fe spokesperson. "After the impact, the lead locomotive started on fire, as did the car."

Whitworth, who was arrested for allegedly driving under the influence of drugs, appears to have mistaken a parking lot for a street, Cianni said.

"I think she turned into that parking lot, thinking it was Sixth Avenue Southeast, drove through the parking lot and got onto the railroad in the back there," he said. "The highway is built to be level with the top of the tracks at the crossing so there is a significant 12-inch to 14-inch dip where the ground is, so she probably hit the tracks with the front tires, the front tires got over the tracks and then the frame of the car got hung up on the track itself. So she wouldn't be able to move after she got over the track."

The train dragged Witworth's vehicle, which was a total loss, about three blocks.

A portion of Villard was blocked off for about an hour while firefighters extinguished the fire, said Dickinson Fire Chief Bob Sivak.

"The hydrant that we needed was on the corner across Villard from the incident and so there was no choice but to divert traffic around that," he said. "After we got our hose out of the street and the wrecker got there, that was probably about 2:40."

The 12 firefighters who responded to the incident left shortly thereafter, he added.

The train had 115 empty coal cars and two locomotives travelling from Minnesota to Montana, McBeth said.

"The lead locomotive was set out at Dickinson to be repaired and the rest of the train moved out later in the morning," she said.

The main track was blocked until about 6:30 a.m., McBeth said.

The three a employees who were in the train at the time of the crash declined comment or were unavailable Wednesday. A phone number for Whitworth is not listed.