NORTHFIELD — Officials are investigating a fatal Amtrak train accident in the town on Thursday.
Scott Benoir, 56, was killed while attempting to cross rail tracks on foot at a designated pedestrian crossing adjacent to Depot Square at 10:38 a.m., according to a release from Northfield Police Chief John Helfant.
“Witnesses indicated that Benoir tripped and fell onto the tracks as the Amtrak train was approaching,” the release said. The train’s horn was sounding, according to witnesses.
“... Benoir tried to remove himself from the tracks but could not get out of the way of the approaching train and was struck. Benoir was pronounced deceased at the scene by Northfield Ambulance,” the release added.
At the scene of the accident, the body was covered by a tarpaulin while investigators gathered evidence of the accident. The south-bound train stopped a distance away beyond the signaled road crossing. Passengers were allowed to disembark and stand in a field while they waited for Amtrak police officials to arrive from Massachusetts to conduct their own investigation.
Helfant was busy talking with emergency responders and other officials involved in the investigation at the scene.
“The witnesses say that the man was coming from the area of Fernandez Hardware and was crossing the tracks in this direction and he tripped on the first rail and he fell down across the tracks just as the train was coming,” Helfant said. “He couldn’t get up and out of the way in time and he was struck by the train.”
“The fire department was here because they’re right there (across the tracks) — they were the first ones here — and then a member of Northfield Ambulance showed up and then we showed up,” he added.
Helfant said that the medical examiner was summoned and the Washington County state’s attorney was notified about the accident.
An employee, who declined to be identified, at the nearby Fernandez Hardware store said he didn’t see the accident but had spoken to several witnesses.
“All I know is what a witness said and what another witness said, ‘That a pedestrian tripped on the tracks, on the crossing, and didn’t get up and get off before the Amtrak clipped him,” he said. “He is a local guy, unfortunately, with a wife and two kids, so there is a family involved.”
Christopher Parker-McArthy, an assistant conductor on the train, said he was aware there had been an accident. The train would have been allowed to travel at 59 mph on that section of track through the town, he added.
“We struck a pedestrian there,” he said. “I guess he was on the tracks when we were coming down. I heard it; I heard the thump and I heard the air brakes (on the train). It’s very sad.”
Train passenger Ben Miller, of Belvedere, was on his way to New Haven when the accident happened.
“I was told we hit someone that was in the crosswalk,” Miller said. “A person was trying to beat the train and tripped and fell in the crosswalk. We honestly didn’t know anything happened until they came on the intercom and told us. At least in my car, we didn’t see anything. It is unfortunate, it’s a tragedy.”
Town Manager Jeff Schultz said he went to the train depot as soon as he heard about the accident.
“The minute I heard, I rushed down there. I was coming in just after the ambulance,” Schultz said. “There were two or three folks that witnessed the accident. I’ve walked across railroad tracks and it’s very uneven because you’ve got all that stone and then sometimes the rails are up a foot or more, so it can be a dangerous situation.”
“Obviously, everybody is upset. It’s a very unfortunate tragedy. Our hearts go out to the family,” he added.
Northfield Police was assisted with scene security by Northfield ambulance, fire, highway and water departments. Kingston Funeral Home removed Benoir from the scene.
The collision remains under investigation. Anyone with information concerning the incident can contact Investigating Officer Karie Tucker at 485-9181.