Train Tragedy

Two killed at Main Street train crossing

In a city that is used to having downtown traffic halted for trains, nobody ever wishes or expects it to be due to a fatal train accident.

Downtown Wetaskiwin was closed off midday Thursday, Oct. 31, due to a train accident at the 50 Ave train crossing, resulting in the deaths of Nazmoon Charran, 75, and Daniel Tites, 84, owners of the Main Street Flea Market, located just one block west of the tracks.

Local RCMP responded to the scene of the pedestrian collision at 11:37 a.m.

Police say the two seniors died on scene after being struck by a south bound train. The initial reports coming from both RCMP and CP Rail representatives indicate that one victim fell while trying to cross the tracks and while the other tried to assist the first, both were unable to avoid being struck by the train.

“What we know so far is the female had crossed the tracks, the train was coming,” said Corporal Kevin Krebs of the Wetaskiwin RCMP.

“I guess when he was walking across, he fell down onto the railroad tracks,” said Krebs.

“She came back in order to help him off the tracks and unfortunately was unable to do it in time and they were both struck by the train and it killed them both.”

It has been confirmed that all bells, warning lights, and barricades were fully operational and in effect at the time of the incident.

“I think basically, she gave her life up in order to save him and it’s a tragedy really,” said Krebs. “There were a lot of witnesses involved and are shocked at what they saw and it’s one of those things that you don’t expect to see and it happens very quickly, so unexpected.”

One witness, who gave a statement to police but asked to not be named in the press, described the scene as the worst thing she had ever seen.

“It was just bad,” said the witness.

The witness was sitting in the third car in the queue behind the train barricade when the incident occurred, and despite the blaring train horn, didn’t think anything was amiss until she saw a lady panicking on the sidewalk.

“I put the car in park and ran out there because I was worried about the lady,” said the witness.

“And then stopped in my tracks because I saw why she was going crazy. I guess anybody who saw that happen would be upset.”

“This is what the lady told me: that she (the female victim) was ahead of him with the wheelchair and he was walking fine, but she was saying ‘hurry up, hurry up’ and he fell and she turned around to grab him.”

“It’s just so unfortunate, you can think that you might have time (to cross) but you don’t think that you’ll fall.”

The incident remains under investigation and any witnesses are being asked to contact the Wetaskiwin RCMP detachment.

“The witnesses have been instrumental,” said Krebs.

“There’s a number of them. Of course, it was at a busy time of day where there was numerous people and of course with the guards down, vehicles were stopped and the sad part is a lot of people had to see that happened.”

RCMP say that Victims Services have been heavily involved with the after affects of the incident, helping witnesses that may be struggling with what they saw.

The last fatality at the Main Street crossing was four years ago, almost to the day. An 80-year-old woman was hit Oct. 25, 2009 by a northbound train, reportedly while on her way to church.

With the exact circumstances of the incident still under investigation, police say that the crossing is safe and urge pedestrians and drivers alike to pay heed to the traffic lights.

“When it comes to the trains, it’s not like a car where you have the ability to stop,” said Krebs.

“The trains are many tonnes. The conductors and engineers have limited control. They are going at 30 kilometres per hour or whatever they’re going through town and they can’t just put the breaks on and stop. When the bells and the lights come on, you have to obey them. Anytime is train time.

“We try to preach that to people, don’t try to beat the train because if you lose, it’s usually with fatal consequences.”

“The end of the day message is don’t try to beat the train, obey the rules and lights and you’ll be fine.”

City residents react to train tragedy

In a city as small and close-knit as Wetaskiwin, it was a safe bet that many would be shocked and affected by the sad deaths of two seniors last Thursday.

Nazmoon Charran and Daniel Tites, proprietors of the Main Street Flea Market were killed Oct. 31, after having been struck by a train at the 50 Ave. crossing, little more than 100 metres from their shop.

Kevin Hickey remembers his neighbours fondly.

“Just a lovely older couple that went in to work most days at the Flea Market, more of a hobby for (Charran) I think,” said Hickey.

“It’s just such a shock and just a tragedy to think that for that one second extra, if they’d stopped. But I know that urge to beat the train when you’ve got to sit frustratingly waiting for it to pass can unfortunately lead to making a bad judgment call.”

Hickey said that he wasn’t surprised to hear that Charran had turned back to help Tites, despite the oncoming train.

“She looked after Daniel and you could tell (she) was such a caring person.”

Meriam Hamdon, an employee at French’s Jewellery, the Flea Market’s downtown neighbours said she was deeply saddened to hear of the couple’s passing.

Charran often went the the jewellers to have watches from the Flea Market fixed.

“She was just the sweetest lady, I don’t know what else to say,” said Hamdon. “It was a big shock and I was just so sad, both of them, and how they died. He was so sweet and she took such care of him. I was in shock.”

French’s Jewellery owner Laurelle Giesbrecht remembered Charran as a charming and humourous personality.

“We had a customer come in this summer and he was originally from Wetaskiwin and came back to visit. He was telling us he was wandering down the street and stopped by there (the Flea Market) and Nazmoon was there and was so entertaining and joked that ‘if you ever moved back to Wetaskiwin, all of this could be yours for $100,000.’”

High schooler Dakota Zielke was one of many pedestrians that happened to come up to the train crossing shortly after the incident occurred.

“It was really hard seeing (the aftermath of the incident) and after finding out who it actually was, and now some really good members of our community, they’re gone,” commented Zielke.

She had visited the Flea Market a few times and appreciated the warm reception she got from the couple.

“They’d always be outside, saying hello to everybody,” said Zielke.

“You’d go in and they’d talk about everything and explain everything. The would have a conversation with you and you’d just feel so welcome.”

Tributes of flowers and stuffed animals began to pile up at the front door of the Flea Market and Zielke thought it touching to see the community react in such a supportive way.

“It was just like ‘wow,’ someone took the time today to give back to a great couple,” she said.

“It’s going to be hard. There would be people walking down these streets and they’d be having the worst day ever and there would be a couple sitting there (outside the store) and they would care to ask you how your day is and say ‘well, that’s not good and I hope it gets better.’”

Sarah O. Swenson/Wetaskiwin Times


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