An 18-year-old Falls Church woman on her way to a college basketball game in Southwest Virginia with four friends was killed Tuesday when the car in which she was riding was hit by a train. State police said the car's occupants didn't hear the train because they were "playing the radio and talking."
Police said Billie Jean Thomas of 3546 Devon Dr. died instantly when she was flung out of the back seat of the station wagon. Another passenger, Martha N. Saxon of Buckingham, Va., is in serious condition after being "caught up by the train and dragged down the track," according to Trooper Russell Young.
Saxon suffered two broken legs, a broken back, fractured arm and head injuries, he said. Three other women were treated for minor injuries and released.
Young said the car was driven by Joyce Merritt of West Palm Beach, Fla. Although warning lights were flashing at the train crossing, a bell was ringing and the train's whistle was blowing, the young women did not realize the train was so close until they were halfway over the crossing, he said. Merritt attempted to back up, but could not find reverse gear because she was so "panicky," he added.
The tracks run beside the campus of Emory and Henry College in Emory, Va. All the young women in the car except Thomas are students at Virginia Intermont College in Bristol, police work in Bristol, her friends told police.
Young said the 68-car Norfolk & Western freight train hit the car's right front fender and swung it around. Meanwhile, the tailgate swung open, the women were thrown out and the car was hit again.