Updated at 11:30 am
POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. (KMOX) - It now appears that five teenaged girls were parked at a railroad crossing on purpose when an Amtrak train slammed into their Jeep near Poplar Bluff early Tuesday morning, leaving two dead and one critically injuried.
Butler County coroner Jim Akers said the Jeep’s occupants were apparently taking part in an online phenomenon called “Ghost Train” in which people park on the tracks, turn off their engines, and wait for “ghosts” to push them to safety.
“It’s folklore, or an urban legend,” Akers said. “Some of the girls (in the Jeep) were obsessed with it, had done it hundreds of times and had never seen a train. Well this was the one time when things went bad.”
Two occupants of the Jeep — 17-year-old driver Haley Whitmer and 15-year-old Victoria “Tori” Swanson, both of Poplar Bluff — were killed.
Whitmer was actually one of three girls able to get free as the train approached, but ran back when her rear seat passengers were having trouble getting their seatbelts off.
Whitmer was able to get one passenger free, 15-year-old Kaitlyn Fowler, before the train hit.
Fowler was airlifted to a Cape Girardeau hospital where she’s in critical condition.
“It’s just a horrible tragedy,” Akers concluded.
Nearly 190 people were on board the westbound Amtrak “Texas Eagle” and no injuries to passengers or crews were reported.
The crossing has a passive warning “crossbucks” sign only, with no flashing lights or gate arms.
Akers said the Jeep Grand Cherokee had a history of mechanical problems but it’s not clear whether engine failure played a part, or the girls stayed on the tracks willingly.
OUR EARLIER STORY:
In far southern Missouri, a vehicle that was stopped on the tracks at a railroad crossing in Butler County was struck by a train early Tuesday morning.
Two teens inside the Jeep Grand Cherokee — 15-year-old Victoria Swanson and 17-year-old Heather Whitmer, both of Poplar Bluff — were killed.
A third teenaged girl was seriously injured and airlifted to a Cape Girardeau hospital.
According to a report by the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the male driver of the Jeep was not injured but there were no further details of what led to the collision around 12:30 am Tuesday.
Officials say the crossing only had a passive warning crossbucks sign, with no crossarms or signal lights.