By Tim Eberly
A westbound freight train struck an unoccupied vehicle that was stranded on railroad tracks early Sunday, the Montana Highway Patrol said.
Less than 10 minutes after two women abandoned the 1996 Saturn at the narrow crossing three miles east of Havre, the freight train ran into the rear driver's side of the vehicle, said Rachel Morris, the driver of the Saturn.
The engineer of the train appeared to apply the brakes before the collision, Morris said.
"It just plowed through it like nothing," Morris, 22, said. "That's one picture that I will never get out of my head. It's pretty much smashed into a little box."
There were no injuries, she said.
The freight train was carrying automobiles from Chicago to Portland, Ore., said Gus Melonas, spokesman for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway.
Morris had pulled off U.S. Highway 2 at 2:30 a.m. to turn around. While she was attempting to back onto the narrow crossing, her vehicle became high-centered on the tracks.
Morris, a junior nursing major at Montana State University-Northern from Power, had been talking to her friend while navigating the car onto the crossing, she said.
Before the accident, Morris was en route to pick up her younger sister at a party east of town. She changed her direction when she saw law enforcement officers had responded to the gathering and were in the process of breaking it up.
She and her passenger attempted to push the vehicle off the tracks. Just as Morris retrieved a car jack from her trunk, her friend spotted the train's headlights in the distance. Neither woman had a cell phone.
"So we just dropped everything and ran," said Morris, who was to appear before Justice of the Peace Carol Chagnon before 1:30 p.m. today for a charge of driving while intoxicated.
The impact forced the Saturn to skid on the tracks for several seconds before it landed upside down in a ditch. It took the train, which Morris estimated was moving about 60 mph, about a mile to come to a stop, she said.
Morris and her friend walked about a half-mile down the tracks, where they met the train engineer.
"He didn't say much," Morris said. "He asked us if we were OK."
Officers took Morris to Northern Montana Hospital, where hospital employees performed a blood test for alcohol consumption, she said.