In the Line of Duty: R.A. Oertwig

BUCKEYE, Iowa - BLE member R.A. Oertwig was killed, and two others were injured, when a Union Pacific freight train struck a tractor pulling a manure trailer tank November 6, 1999, in rural Hardin County, Iowa.

The train's engineer, Randy Oertwig, 48, of West Des Moines, died in the accident. Oertwig was member of BLE Division 778 (Des Moines) and a 21-year employee of Union Pacific Railroad.

The accident happened about 1 mile northeast of Buckeye at 4:14 p.m., said Hardin County Sheriff's officials. Twenty-two of the freight train's 50 cars and two locomotives derailed in the crash.

"As far as I know, the investigation is finished," said Mark Davis, spokesman for Union Pacific Railroad in Omaha. "We know the driver of the tractor failed to yield to the train."

Richard Merical, 51, the train's conductor, sustained a severe injury to one of his hands and numerous facial lacerations. Merical was taken to Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines, where he was listed in fair condition on November 7.

The driver of the tractor, Brian King, 23, of Hampton, was taken to Ellsworth Municipal Hospital in Iowa Falls.

Iowa State Patrol officials said King's tractor failed to yield to the train as it tried to cross the tracks at the intersection of 180th Street and G Avenue.

Two locomotives and 50 cars were on their way from Minneapolis to Des Moines, said Mark Davis, spokesman for Union Pacific Railroad in Omaha.

Waterloo's Hazardous Materials unit was called to the accident because about 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled from the train's wreckage. The liquid manure being transported soaked into the ground and is not a hazard to the area, Phillips said.

Liz Gilbert, who lives about three miles east of Buckeye, said the accident happened at the intersection of 180th Street and G Avenue, about a half-mile east and one mile north of the town.

"The intersection was an accident waiting to happen," she said. "It's a very bad intersection."

Eyewitnesses said the accident occurred near the Heartland Pork Enterprises hog confinement operation. Calls to the plant were not answered.

Gilbert said dust raised by Heartland Pork Enterprises' manure trailers as they drive down 180th Street and other gravel roads in the area makes vision difficult.

"You drive down the road, and you cannot see anything coming but dust," Gilbert said.

Train accidents are nothing new to Buckeye, a town of about 105 people 50 miles west of Waterloo. In 1994, two train accidents in one week killed three people, forcing the city to close Ellsworth Avenue where it crosses the train tracks.

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2000 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers