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2 fatal train crashes. 2 days apart. Same intersection, authorities investigate

Brightline train
Marguerite Courtney

The Melbourne Police Department is assisting the National Transporation Safety Board with an investigation into rail operator Brightline after two accidents last week led to multiple injuries and three deaths.

On Friday afternoon, 52-year-old Lisa Ann Batchelder was driving a 2004 Chevrolet Avalanche westbound on W. H. Jackson Street, west of South Harbor City Boulevard, when he collided with a southbound Brightline train and was pronounced dead, according to an MPD press release. One passenger, 54-year-old Michael Anthony Degasperi, was also reportedly killed due to the impact.

Two days before on Wednesday afternoon, 62-year-old Charles Julian Philips was driving a Honda Element through the same railroad crossing as Friday's incident, when he was hit and killed by a northbound train. Three other passengers, including one 9-year-old, were injured.

According to the MPD, in both incidents, Brightline safety equipment was working properly. However, drivers attempted to drive around the safety beams. The investigation is still determining if there were other factors.

"Fatal collisions at grade crossings are a significant concern for the NTSB and we are looking at ways that can improve safety at these crossings to prevent these collisions from happening," the NTSB said. "Investigators will be looking at a range of factors including current safeguards that are designed to prevent collisions."

WMFE reached out to Brightline for comment, but it has not responded.

However, the train company is reportedly cooperating with authorities, said MPD Sgt. Ben Slover.

“Brightline has been very proactive and working with our city government to try and deduce why this is happening, what they can do to prevent it from happening again, and anything they can come up with to solve the problem,” he said. 

Slover also says the investigation should not have an impact on traffic, but he has advice for Melbourn drivers.

"Slow down," he said. "Be Patient. Safety is paramount and it's more important than the timeframe because the people who tried to get around quicker ended up in crashes and unfortunately ended up having several deaths. Now those people will never make another appointment again."

Slover said there is no timeline for the investigation, and that vehicular investigations can take up to a year or longer.

The NTSB said the on-scene portion of the investigation will be several days and a preliminary report could be completed in 30 days but final findings will take one to two years to be completed.

Originally from South Florida, Joe Mario came to Orlando to attend the University of Central Florida where he graduated with degrees in Radio & Television Production, Film, and Psychology. He worked several beats and covered multimedia at The Villages Daily Sun but returned to the City Beautiful as a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel where he covered crime, hurricanes, and viral news. Joe Mario has too many interests and not enough time but tries to focus on his love for strange stories in comic books and horror movies. When he's not writing he loves to run in his spare time.
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