(New Buffalo, MI) - A southwest Michigan teenager heading home from college for the weekend was among the 200 passengers on a derailed Amtrak train involved in a fiery crash.
Evan Messinger, 18, of New Buffalo said he didn’t know what was happening at first.
“We felt the train shake as if you were in an airplane with turbulence and then all of a sudden we were tipped sideways almost,” he said.
According to the Berrien County Sheriff’s Office, there were no serious injuries in the Thursday night derailment along U.S. 12 in New Buffalo Township. All of the train cars remained upright on the tracks.
A vehicle reportedly stuck on the railroad tracks was in the process of being removed by a tow truck at the Lakeside Road crossing between New Buffalo and Three Oaks. A westbound Amtrak train was unable to stop itself from hitting the vehicle and tow truck on the tracks, both unoccupied at the time of impact.
The engineer and 10 passengers were treated by local ambulance services for minor injuries.
No light has been shed by local authorities on why the car was stuck on the tracks.
Messinger said he was traveling home from Southwestern Michigan College in Dowagiac, where he’s a freshman. He wanted to spend the weekend with his family before heading back to the campus for classes on Monday and returning home again for Thanksgiving.
At about the time his passenger car began shaking, Messinger said the train started coming to a stop fast enough to almost throw him out of his seat, also seeing what he described as a “big ball of fire” and feeling his window heating up on the inside from the flames.
“That’s when I knew something was wrong,” he said.
Right away, Messinger said, he called his father and, like the other passengers in his train car, was scared, if not, panicking.
“There was a bunch of random emotions going on,” he said.
He and the rest of the passengers, eventually, stepped out of the train cars and waited in a field beside the tracks. Messinger said he was too far away to tell what was burning, yet was close enough to see the flames and what seemed like a few dozen firefighters trying to put them out.
“It was definitely a traumatic experience. I’m so glad to be alive right now I’m really glad to be here,” he said.
All of the passengers on the train were safely evacuated and taken on school buses to New Buffalo High School for temporary shelter. There, many passengers were picked up by family members and friends at the school, while the remainder of the people were taken on buses to the Amtrak station in Chicago just before 1 a.m. Friday, per the police.
Evan Burian, 18, also of New Buffalo, said he and Messinger were texting each other during his trip when he informed him about the derailment just after it occurred. Burian went to the scene and took Messinger home.
“Everyone was freaking out and trying to get out of the train as quick as possible,” he said.
Zack Forker, a 2022 New Buffalo High School graduate, said he also went to the scene after learning about the derailment. He also went to the school where he saw passengers along with their family members hugging each other.
“It was hectic. It was scary,” he said.
Authorities stated that no further details would be provided at this time due to the incident being under investigation.
Several train cars were removed from the tracks and placed in the field while crews began the process of making the repairs.
Lakeside Road is closed to through traffic from Kruger Road to U.S. 12 during the repairs, according to the Berrien County Road Department.