WOONSOCKET — A freight train slammed into a car Wednesday after the driver mistakenly turned onto the River Street train tracks, thinking the rail bed was a street.
Christopher Hanlon, 28, was navigating with the aid of a GPS device, said Detective Lt. Eugene Jalette. The Coventry resident was heading toward Massachusetts on River Street, looking for Verry Street.
“His GPS said take the next right, so he took the next right, which turned out to be the railroad tracks,” said Jalette. “Verry Street is the first right after the railroad tracks.”
Hanlon drove about 20 feet onto the tracks when his vehicle bottomed out on the beveled rail bed and became stranded. Hanlon and a female passenger, 23 years old, got out of the vehicle and tried to push it off the tracks.
At that point, there was still no train in sight, said Jalette. Moments later, however, they heard the approach of an oncoming train and saw the automated traffic barrier lower itself to block River Street.
At about 11:15 p.m., a Providence & Worcester freight train appeared from behind a distant curve in the tracks and began approaching Hanlon's paralyzed 1998 Volvo S70 sedan.
Hanlon and his companion stepped out of the path of the oncoming train. They were out of danger, but there was nothing they could do but watch helplessly as the locomotive crashed into the vehicle.
Jalette said the conductor saw the car and applied the brakes, but he was unable to stop the train in time to avoid the crash. The train struck the rear quarter of the Volvo on the driver's side at about 25 mph. The impact sent the vehicle into a violent spin and pushed it about 50 feet west on the tracks.
The heavily damaged vehicle was no longer drivable and had to be removed from the tracks by Rick's Towing.
Jalette said Hanlon wasn't cited for any motor vehicle infraction. It's not Hanlon's fault if his GPS didn't know the next right was a stretch of train tracks.
“I think we've gotta blame GPS on this one,” Jalette said.