42-year-old Blackman Township Crash Victim Remembered

By: Tony Tagliavia
By: Tony Tagliavia

"Robert was a great employee. Great guy to be around. He's going to be missed by his family. He loved his wife and his kids," Robert Coley's employer, John Tylutki, said in an interview Tuesday evening.

Coley, 42, of Blackman Township, died in what witnesses describe as a fiery crash after the dump truck he was driving was struck by an Amtrak passenger train.

"Just saw, flames all on both sides of the train. You know, just a ball of fire. The train heated up fast, like it was an oven," Dale Ashford said.

Ashford, of Detroit, suffered minor injuries. A spokeswoman for Foote Hospital in Jackson confirms another 14 passengers were admitted with what Amtrak describes as scrapes and bruises.

Witnesses described a chaotic scene inside the train.

"(It was like) if you were on a plane going down. And people are just panicking, screaming and everything," Ashford said.

Coley never stopped at the tracks, which, prior to the crash, were marked by stop signs on either side of the tracks.

The crossing was on the private property of Tylutki Excavating. Coley was on the clock, picking up topsoil to be delivered to worksites when the crash happened.

This wasn't the first accident at the crossing between the Norfolk Southern tracks and the driveway to Tylutki Excavating, although owner John Tylutki and the Jackson County Sheriff's deputy investigating the crash couldn't recall the details.

The investigator, Deputy Todd Long, says unique problems arise from train crossings on private property.

"You live by them all the time, you ignore the train. So when you leave or enter your house, you don't think of it. People end up daydreaming. And they do go across the tracks without stepping or even taking a look," Long said.

He says the crossings are common in rural Jackson County.

None of the passengers was seriously hurt in this crash.

"We're blessed. We're here," Ashford said.

But others are mourning someone who wasn't so fortunate.

"His family was his life. He's gonna be missed by all of them. He was a good guy," Tylutki said.

A spokeswoman for Foote Hospital confirmed all 15 passengers sent to the medical center for treatment had been released by late Tuesday night.


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