Skyview grad among dead in Kelso train crash

Chris Loehr, 28, was training to be a conductor for BNSF

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

Published:

Updated: March 24, 2011, 7:35 PM

 
photoEmergency personnel work to extract an injured passenger from the shuttle vehicle which was hit by a northbound train at a private crossing at the Longview Junction near the Harry Morgan Bridge in Kelso.
photoEmergency personnel transport an injured passenger to an ambulance from the shuttle vehicle which was hit by a northbound train at a private crossing at the Longview Junction near the Harry Morgan Bridge in Kelso in March, 2011.

A Skyview High School graduate was among the three people killed in a train accident Wednesday in Kelso.

Chris Loehr, 28, and another BNSF Railway employee were killed when the shuttle van in which they were riding was struck by a freight train. The shuttle van driver was also killed.

A fourth BNSF employee survived the crash and was flown to OHSU Hospital in Portland. He remained hospitalized Thursday night.

Loehr graduated from Skyview High School in 2001. He served in the U.S. Army as a section sergeant and truck commander. He served two tours overseas, the first in Iraq in 2005.

Loehr only began working for BNSF in January and was a conductor trainee. He recently moved to Seattle, where he was based.

“We’ve heard from some of his co-workers, and he just loved the railroad,” BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said of Loehr.

“He loved being a railroader and was thrilled at the opportunity,” Melonas added. “It sounds like he had an extremely bright future.”

Melonas said he received emails from people across the country asking about Loehr and expressing their sadness in learning of his death.

News of the fatal collision spread throughout BNSF and was on everyone’s minds Thursday, Melonas said.

“It’s an extremely tough loss for all of us,” he said. “It’s been a gloomy day.”

Tom Kenny, 58, is the other BNSF employee killed in the collision. Kenny was based in Seattle and had been a locomotive engineer for BNSF for 22 years.

Coach America employee Steven Sebastian, 60, was driving the shuttle. He lived in Castle Rock.

The only survivor in the van, veteran conductor Dwight Hauck of Auburn, remains at OHSU. Hauck, 52, was in critical condition Thursday morning and responding to doctors, Melonas said.

Later Thursday, Hauck’s family asked that additional information not be released to the public. A hospital spokesman said Thursday night that Hauck was no longer listed in the hospital's public directory. As a result, a condition update was not available.

BNSF officials continued their investigation at the crash scene Thursday but did not release any additional information.

The collision happened at about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at a private crossing off Talley Way in south Kelso.

There is an X-shaped warning sign at that point, but there is no automatic crossing barrier to keep vehicles off the tracks when a train is approaching, Melonas said.

The shuttle van had left the Longview rail yard and was heading east across a set of three tracks when it was struck. The northbound grain train originated in Crookston, Minn. No one aboard the train was injured.

The railroad employees had finished their shifts and were heading from Longview to a motel in Vancouver for the night, Melonas said.

Train traffic was stopped after the collision and resumed at about 11:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546 or marissa.harshman@columbian.com.

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546 or marissa.harshman@columbian.com.