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Man killed by train had battled PTSD

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Phillip Buchanan, photo taken around 2001. (Photo provided)
Phillip Buchanan, photo taken around 2001. (Photo provided)

NEW PALESTINE — The man struck and killed by a train in New Palestine early Sunday was treated for post-traumatic stress disorder a day before he committed suicide.

Monday, family members of Phil Buchanan, 39, formerly of New Palestine, were struggling to come to terms with what happened.

They remembered a quiet man with an offbeat sense of humor, who put others first even as he fought his own demons.

Buchanan joined the Army shortly after graduating from New Palestine High School in 1991 and performed tours of duty in Somalia, Bosnia and Germany. The experience affected him profoundly, but he rarely shared his experiences with others, said his sister, Jody Agee.

“It did change him, but I think it changes everybody,” said Agee, of Indianapolis. “I know he had a lot of bad things that he would not talk about from (the) military.”

A train conductor called 911 around 1:30 a.m. Sunday after the train struck Buchanan, who was lying on the tracks in the 5700 block of West U.S. 52.

“They saw him ahead of time, but you know, you can’t stop a train on a dime,” Hancock County Sheriff’s Lt. Bridget Foy said.

The passenger train, which had about 160 people on board, was eastbound and came to a stop about a quarter mile from CR 500W. No passengers were injured.

Police are treating the incident as a suicide.

Family members had been concerned about Buchanan over the weekend. His demeanor prompted his mother, Florence Buchanan, to call for help Saturday afternoon. She told a dispatcher her son suffered from PTSD and she worried for his safety.

Buchanan agreed to go to Hancock Regional Hospital for an evaluation that afternoon and was later released, police said.

But family members knew their loved one was in a bad place emotionally.

“You got to hear less and less of the positive in recent weeks,” said sister Julie Bennett of Nineveh. “We realized that if he didn’t start recovering … that we were gonna lose him.”

Bennett said her brother had gone to counseling and had received medical treatment but remained severely depressed. He was taken to the emergency room after a failed suicide attempt in June.

Monday, the family was trying to focus on happier times.

Buchanan was not married and had no children of his own, but as one of six children in the family, he had a host of nieces and nephews and was a favorite uncle among them.

“Phil would be out, playing with the kids, at the get-togethers,” Agee said. “My kids absolutely adored Phil.”

Buchanan was intelligent and was known among family members for having a unique – if not at times quirky – perspective about things, Bennett said.

He was observant and liked snapping pictures of little things he found interesting – the way the light reflected in an alleyway near his home, for example, or the texture of the side of a building. He posted the photos to Facebook.

Buchanan played basketball at New Palestine High School and still enjoyed sports as an adult.

While he was one of the more reserved of Florence Buchanan’s six children, he still enjoyed pulling a good prank.

“He used to get us massively with April Fools’ jokes,” Agee said. “We would plot against him for like a year to get him back.”

One year, he called each member of the family and told them some big piece of (fake) news – that he’d planned to switch careers, that his girlfriend at the time was pregnant – knowing they’d all keep his “secret.”

Meanwhile, Buchanan’s siblings were bursting at the seams to share what they’d been told.

“We all had these crazy stories,” Bennett said. “And so you’d call (everyone else) and say, ‘Hi, you talk to Phil lately?’ He had us all going.”

Buchanan was due to start work installing windows this week with a company he’d worked for in the past, Bennett said.

He seemed excited.

The family planned to get together in early August to celebrate his 40th birthday. One of Buchanan’s sisters recently returned to Indiana from Florida, so it would have been the first time in two years they were all together.

Monday, the family was leaning on each other for support and starting to sort through Buchanan’s belongings.

People in the town where Buchanan grew up have also reached out to the grieving family.

Every gesture – the visits to the house, the drop-offs of pasta salads and home-cooked dinners – makes a difference.

“We’ve had a lot of community outpouring of support,” Bennett said. “I’ve never been through this. I’ve never lost a young person in my life. I just am amazed at how much comfort there is in having people show that kind of kindness.”

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