Friend: Gate malfunction could have caused train accident

HARTFORD TOWNSHIP - Questions are being raised about a deadly train crash in Van Buren County. A 19-year-old Coloma man, Zac Zellmer, died around 9 p.m. Tuesday night when a train hit his car at a crossing near the intersection of 52nd Avenue and County Road 687 in Hartford Township.

“What was making you in such a damn hurry? We’re going to miss him,” says Julianna Flaherty. She is one of a handful of friends today remembering Zellmer, a Lake Michigan Catholic High School graduate.

Flarherty and four friends walked about a quarter mile from the impact point to the place where Zellmer's car stopped. There they built a makeshift cross made with debris from Zellmer’s totaled car

The friends joke about how the Zellmer was a class clown and a dare-devil.

They say he was even known for driving around railroad crossing gates. “Just doing the crazy things nobody else would do, just to say ‘I did this’ or get somebody’s reaction to it,” says Flarherty.

“There (are) no gates, lights, nothing,” says Donnie Johnson, another friend in the group. Johnson isn’t so sure Zellmer was taking his chances.

Johnson is a volunteer firefighter and friend of Zellmer’s. He says they go past this crossing all the time.

He says the gates are known for not working correctly.

“There’s been other times we’ve come down here and the gate hasn’t worked," Johnson says. "We go through and then probably 30 seconds later a train comes through.”

According to the Van Buren Sheriff’s Department the gates and the lights were working at the crossing. Sargent David Walker says when officers showed up on scene Tuesday night the gates were down. Walker also says this intersection has never been a problem before.

“Earlier it looked like they were testing them but it’s not like you can get a true test until you have a train coming through,” says Johnson.

“We’re going to miss him, we just wanted to pay our respects and let him know we love him” No matter the cause of the collision. It can’t bring back 19-year-old Zellmer.

 All 72 of the people onboard the Amtrak train were uninjured. It was going about 65 miles an hour at the time of impact.



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