Witnesses tell police details of train accident

Bystanders discuss coin game, dancing on tracks before train struck man

The conductor of a train traveling through downtown Franklin early Saturday morning told police he saw people standing in the middle of the tracks dancing around in the moments before a man was hit.

As the train continued south past a bar, people continued to stand near the tracks and hadn’t moved away, the conductor told Franklin police.

The Louisville & Indiana Railroad train struck Matthew Huffaker, 27, of Indianapolis, just before 1 a.m. Saturday. Police were called and found intoxicated people and heard people screaming near the tracks, the report said. Huffaker had a head injury and an off-duty city firefighter who was in the area began treating him, the police report said.

The accident happened outside BoJaks Bar and Grille, between Jefferson and Monroe streets just east of the Louisville & Indiana Railroad line, where people had gathered to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, the police report said.

A man at the bar who knew Huffaker said the two greeted each other, then headed outside when they heard a train coming, he told Franklin police. Their plan was to place coins on the train tracks, the report said.

But Huffaker stayed in the middle of the tracks for too long, after his friend and a woman had gotten out of the way, and the friend pushed Huffaker off the tracks, he told police, but the train still hit him, the report said.

Another train employee told police he saw the man who was hit standing in the middle of the tracks, and it looked like the man and a woman with him were recording him on their cellphones, he told police. The railroad has video of the moments before the accident, and it shows a man filming Huffaker on the tracks, the police report said.

To one bystander, it looked as though the three people were playing chicken with the train, and they didn’t get out of the way until the final moments, the witness told police.

“It’s imperative that people respect trains and not try to play games with trains,” Louisville & Indiana Railroad President John Goldman said.

A handrail from one of the cars hit Huffaker, a railroad company employee on the train told police. The railroad company could not confirm this week what part of the train hit Huffaker, but the handrail does not extend far from the train, Goldman said.

The train was traveling 21 mph, and was permitted to travel up to 25 mph, Goldman said.

Witnesses said that Huffaker had been drinking alcohol, but police don’t know to what extent or whether it was a factor in the accident. The police officer who helped calm Huffaker until medics arrived could smell alcohol on him, the report said.

Huffaker was taken to Johnson Memorial Hospital, then Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital with internal injuries. He remained in critical condition on Monday, according to IU Health.

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Michele Holtkamp is editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at mholtkamp@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2774.