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Trooper Tries to Save Couple, Halts Boxcars

Associated Press

A state trooper leaped aboard two runaway boxcars that were moving at up to 40 m.p.h. and brought them to a halt to save an elderly couple trapped inside an automobile that was being dragged along the tracks.

Trooper David Haire, 38, managed to set the brakes and stop the boxcars after the crushed auto had been dragged about a mile. One of the crash victims later died.

“I saw them coming at me, but it was hard to say how fast,” Haire said after Thursday’s accident in the Detroit suburb of Northville. “And I saw the man waving at me out of his window and he seemed to be shouting, but I couldn’t hear what.

“I ran up as fast as I could and at the right moment, I reached out and leaped for the ladder on the lead car.

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“I don’t remember if it hurt or not, but when I grabbed it, it just seemed to pull me right aboard.”

Haire said he found a wheel that looked as if it might control the brakes and began turning it.

“It took a while, but we started slowing down and coming to a halt,” he said.

The Chessie Railroad boxcars apparently broke away at a rail yard in Novi, west of Detroit. They rolled downhill about five miles before they could be stopped. Investigators estimated the speed of the cars, as they rolled through several crossings, at between 30 m.p.h. and 40 m.p.h.

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The freight cars rumbled through a busy crossing at Seven Mile Road and slammed into two automobiles. One car was knocked aside but the one occupied by George Yokich and his wife, Calene, both 68, was dragged along the track, said Trooper David O’Dell.

Haire said he was in his patrol car when he spotted the runaway boxcars dragging the Detroit couple’s vehicle. The Yokich car was on its side, wedged under the leading freight car, which was loaded with auto parts.

He said he raced after the cars because he knew they were headed for an overpass. “I was afraid the automobile would fall off the tracks there and hit the street below,” he said.

Haire began a four-day leave after the accident, which he called “the worst experience” of his 12 years as a state policeman.

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“I don’t know how he was able to do it all,” Sgt. Leonard R. Goretski said. “I’m very proud to have him as a Michigan state trooper.”

Chessie general foreman H. J. Bowles said the railroad would investigate how the cars rolled out of the rail yard.

Calene Yokich died after being freed from the crushed car. Her husband was in stable condition Friday at St. Mary’s Hospital in Livonia, hospital spokeswoman Audrey McConachie said. She said Yokich was being treated for bruises and checked for more serious injury.

The driver of the car that was pushed off the track at the crossing did not require hospitalization, O’Dell said.

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