NEW PALESTINE — Adam Vaal was sitting in his car Friday afternoon, watching the flashing lights on the train tracks at Gem Road when he saw a northbound car coming toward him at full speed.
“I honked my horn because it was clear he was going to run right into the oncoming train, and he just slammed right into it,” Vaal said.
Vaal watched in disbelief as the car struck the train and then disappeared into a ditch as the train cars rolled by.
Vaal jumped out of his car just as the train screeched to a halt. He scrambled to the car, which was sitting upright in a ditch with a young man struggling to climb out.
“I walked down the slope and just kind of reached out to him and grabbed his hand and helped him up,” Vaal said.
New Palestine High School senior Alex Hall is lucky to be alive, officials say. The 18-year-old was taken to the hospital as a precaution, but police officials at the scene said he appeared to be uninjured.
“When I first arrived on the scene, he was standing and talking to other people who were here,” New Palestine Police Chief Bob Ehle said. “He seemed fine and said he just didn’t see the train.”
The CXS train was heading westbound when the accident happened shortly after 12:30 p.m.
“The engineer said he was blowing the horns like he normally does, and the flashers were working,” Ehle said. “The engineer said, ‘That guy isn’t going to stop for us,’ and he hit them right there in the intersection.”
Ehle said the train could do nothing to avert the driver heading toward them.
“He (Hall) actually hit the train,” Ehle said. “Right behind the front of the engine, he slammed into some steps and in the pictures I took you can see part of his car on those steps.”
After assessing the scene, Ehle said Hall – who was headed from NPHS to Walker Career Learning Center at Warren Central for classes – was “very fortunate.”
Vaal, who came to Hall’s aid, recently started a new job at Edward Jones in New Palestine and was headed back to the office after meeting some new clients when he saw the accident. He said he just happened to be in the right place at the right time. An hour after the accident, he still couldn’t believe Hall was able to walk away from the crash.
“I just asked him if he was OK and then made sure nobody else was in the car,” Vaal said. “I honestly thought he was dead because he hit that train so hard.”
Train conductor Nate Talford said they were simply riding down the tracks when all of a sudden the car plowed into them.