Bob Lind, Published June 09 2012
Lind: Little girl lone fatality in 1962 train derailment
Yes, it’s a relief when “only one” is killed in an accident. Or a storm, a fire, a wartime battle. Unless that person was someone you knew and loved.
Such was the case when a Northern Pacific North Coast Limited train derailed in western Montana.
Teresa Ann Yates was the “only one” who died in that accident, which occurred in 1962, 50 years ago today.
Teresa was 2.
Some of the story of that accident was told here earlier because the train was eastbound, so it probably carried passengers bound for Fargo-Moorhead; Bill Kuebler, a former Fargo resident, uncovered information about the accident; and Ron Nixon, once a railroad telegrapher in Fargo, shot pictures of the crash scene.
The Northern Pacific Railway Historical Association publication, “The Mainstreeter,” is carrying a story about the accident this month. It was written by Bill, now of Apple Valley, Minn., and Teresa Ann’s two sisters, Roberta McConnell, now of Onalaska, Wash., and Jackie White, Chehalis, Wash.
Here are more of the sisters’ memories, as reported in the story.
She didn’t want to go
The three sisters – Roberta, who was 5, Jackie, 4, and Teresa – and their parents, Jim and Dauretta Yates, were leaving Centralia, Wash., for their new home in Ekalaka, Mont.
Taking the train “was an adventure,” Roberta says, although when they were about to board the Limited that June 9, Teresa clung to her uncle, cried, and said she didn’t want to get on the train.
The family of five, all seated in the front end of their car, were asleep when the train came through Evaro, a dot on the map northwest of Missoula, Mont., at 4:35 a.m. June 10.
The engineer had the throttle wide open, so the train was doing 87 mph when it hit a curve that was supposed to be taken at no more than 30.
The result: The four diesel units overturned and careened down an embankment, dragging 15 of the train’s 17 cars with them.
One of those cars slammed into a highway embankment. It was the car in which the Yates family was riding.
Digging with bare hands
“I remember while sleeping having the sensation of being tossed about like a rag doll,” Roberta says. “My next clear memory is of being under the seat in front of me and not being able to move. The foot rest had come down on my neck and pinned me to the floor. I couldn’t see my sisters anywhere.
“The entire front end of our coach was filled with dirt, mud and rocks up to the seats that my parents and sisters had been sitting in. Our coach had slid so fast down the embankment and hit the edge of the highway so hard that Teresa Ann and Jackie had been thrown into the debris.
“Teresa Ann went in first and ended up in a fetal position. Jackie’s face slid into the space between Teresa Ann’s arms and knees. This ‘air pocket’ saved Jackie’s life. (But) Teresa Ann was thrown so hard it broke her neck.
“I will never forget watching our parents digging frantically for the girls. Mom and Dad literally dug with their bare hands until they were raw and bleeding.”
Jackie says her “first real memory was of being in a very dark place, and I couldn’t move. I felt someone was with me, and there was. It was Teresa. To this day I still feel her with me.”
No alcohol now allowed
Epilogue: Jim, now 74, lives in Lacey, Wash. His wife died in 2009.
An investigation showed the train’s engine crew had been drinking prior to taking over the train. The engineer was tried for manslaughter but was found not guilty. Because of this accident, railroads now have a rule that prohibits employees from using alcohol or being under its influence while on duty.
In the “Mainstreeter” story, Bill points out that the North Coast Limited had a solid safety record over its 70-some year run.
In all that time, it had “only one” fatality.
That was Teresa Ann.
She would have been 53 this year.
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