With a passenger train fast approaching a road crossing in northern New Mexico, a police officer says he kept his head down and concentrated on trying to start an abandoned car that was sitting on the tracks.
“I didn’t even look for the train. I just focused on getting the car off the tracks,” said Officer Joshua Stone of the Las Vegas police department. “I honestly didn’t want to look.”
Only later did the 29-year-old Stone grasp that the train was yards away when he got the car off the tracks.
Stone and another Las Vegas officer had been called to assist a New Mexico State Police officer who’d spotted the car on the tracks Sunday afternoon.
The officers called for a tow truck and then waited for it to haul off the car, a Chevrolet Cavalier.
It was then that the officers were startled to hear the blaring horn of a Los Angeles-bound Amtrak train as the crossing gates began doing down, Stone said during a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
“It was loud, extremely loud. It caught us off-guard,” he said.
Partly because some residents were nearby, attracted by the police cars with their emergency lights on, Stone said the officers immediately decided to see if they could move the car off the tracks themselves.
There wasn’t time to get far enough away to avoid debris that would be sent flying if the train hit the car, he said.
“There was a risk of life to them — the people (and) to us at the scene,” he said.
A key was not in the ignition, so Stone said he was going to try to force it into neutral to allow it to be pushed off the tracks. But his foot moved the driver’s floor mat when he got in the car and uncovered a set of keys, he said.
“It didn’t want to start right away,” adding that was perhaps the reason the car was left on the tracks in the first place.
The engine started and Stone was able to get it off the tracks just before the train passed by, he said.
Meanwhile, the train was braking and straddling the crossing when it came to a stop. Crew members got off and they and the police officers confirmed that nobody was hurt, Stone said. “And then they started the train and went about their business.”
“Nobody was injured. Effectively nothing happened. It’s scary to think what would have happened,” said the 29-year-old Stone who became a police officer in October 2012. “Everything by the grace of God was working in our favor that day.”
The incident was first reported by the Las Vegas Optic.
Police Chief Christian Montano said he was “concerned as an employer and his chief but … he knew he had a duty to protect life and property and he did what was necessary to do that.”
Montano said estimates on how close the train was when Stone got the car off the tracks ranged from 2 to 20 yards. “They barely got the car off the tracks before it went by,” he said.
The train crew didn’t report making an emergency stop but that wouldn’t be required unless the train hit something or was significantly delayed, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said.
The state police officer present at the crossing was not available for an interview, but a State Police spokesman, Sgt. Emmanuel Gutierrez said the officer’s report noted Stone drove the car off the crossing “seconds before the train came by.”
Right about when the state police officer spotted the car on the tracks, the car’s owner had called police, saying a friend had borrowed it but didn’t return it and that she wanted it back.