EMS Responders: Train Trestle Injuries & Deaths Aren't Uncommon

Reporter: Rachel Schaerr | Videographer: Daniel Heffner

Lynchburg, VA - Emergency responders say five Liberty University students had 40 seconds to react Thursday night when they came face-to-face with a train.

Now one Liberty University student is dead and another is in critical condition. Three others received minor injuries.

The Amherst County Sheriff's office says they apparently walked onto the train trestle in Amherst County to watch the stars.

Officials say 18-year-old Hannah Williams of Sanford, North Carolina was struck by the train and likely died instantly.

Julianne Ashbaugh, 18, is in critical but stable condition after jumping nearly 90 feet off the bridge to the riverbank below.

The sheriff's office says two others jumped to a nearby support beam to avoid the train. Another hung on underneath the track for dear life.

"It's dark. You're out there a third of the way, all of a sudden. there's the train. What do you do? Where do you go," said Ernie Cash, the Monelison's Volunteer Fire Chief.

Cash says probably half a dozen people have lost their lives on those tracks.

"Some end up in the river, some in the banks," said Cash.

Public safety officials say the five students made it about a third of the way across the tracks from the Amherst County side when a Norfolk Southern train, coming from the Lynchburg side at about 35 mph, met them head-on.

Emergency workers arrived around 10:45 a.m. Friday.

"The train still parked on the tracks. They had four people on the trestle. And they had one person off the trestle," said Gary Roakes, the public safety director in Amherst County.

Williams was dead and Ashbaugh was in bad shape with internal injuries.

"The third support structure where the subject had jumped off at, that's where she was," said Roakes.

The public safety director says this is a very busy track. In the three hours they spent clearing it, there were seven trains waiting to cross.

"You've got two active railroad crossings, you've got the signage, it's an active track and it has been for a number of years," said Roakes.

The latest incident stands as another eerie reminder.

"Stay away from down here. No need to be here," said Roakes.

First responders say it's a miracle the girl who jumped from this bridge survived. They said "angels must have fallen with her."

Officials say there are no plans to add fencing to keep people off this train track. It's owned by Norfolk Southern, and they're conducting their own investigation.

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