CHERAW — It could have been worse.
Although last month’s crash of an Amtrak passenger train with a truck and trailer claimed two lives and shook the community, officials say it could have been worse — much worse.
That real possibility came up more than once on Tuesday evening at the Cheraw Town Hall as the town council held its monthly work session.
Both Mayor Scott Hunter and Fire Chief John L. Melton brought up the subject of what could have been.
The wreck on June 20 served as a wake-up call to town officials and has led to a revisiting of the town’s emergency preparedness plans and policies, according to Town Manager Mike Smith.
Melton told council members he is scheduling meetings with all department heads and their assistants to go over the town’s disaster plans and policies, and its own Emergency Operations Center.
The train collision occurred the morning of June 20. Killed in the crash were Glenn Locklear, 52, and Barney Driggers, 56, both of Cheraw. The two men worked for the Town of Cheraw’s Public Works Department.
According to the S.C. Highway Patrol (SCHP), the accident occurred in town limits near the intersection of East Market Street and Third street. Witnesses in the area reported they heard the sound of the impact as the train and truck collided at about 7:45 a.m. There are stop signs at the tracks in this area but no railroad crossing arms.
The truck was pulling a large trailer at the time of the accident.
According to representatives from Amtrak, there were 244 passengers on board at the time of the accident, and none were injured. The train was running from Miami to New York. The crash remains under investigation by a special team with the SCHP.
The train crash serves to remind Cheraw officials that even though Cheraw is a small town, it is not exempt from disaster.
“That train could have easily derailed,” Melton said, and the town could have been faced with more than 200 injured or worse.
“We’re not exempt … we need to be diligent” and be prepared for major emergency situations, Melton told the council.
At the close of the meeting, Hunter again approached the subject of what could have been.
Hunter said there were reports that the northbound Amtrak train actually lifted off of the tracks at the time of the collision but somehow came to rest back onto the rails.
“Two inches either way and it could have been a bigger mess,” said Hunter.
Council Member Jacqueline A. Ellerbe-Shannon had high praise for the fire department and police department in how they handled the accident scene that morning.
“You all did an excellent job,” she told the fire chief.
Those compliments were echoed by Smith.
“I’m proud of the plans they’ve put into place … our police chief and fire chief were very professional (the day of the crash) and had it under control,” Smith told the Chronicle after the meeting.
Mayor Hunter also spoke of the departments’ handling of the tragic crash in an open letter to the community.
“On behalf of the Cheraw Town Council and staff, I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to all of you that have stood beside us over the past week, as we have experienced the most tragic week of our long history,” Hunter wrote.
“The events of Monday, June 20th, caught everyone by surprise, but serve as a reminder to how fragile life is. For the families of Sly Driggers and Glen Locklear, you are in our prayers and will remain there as we all cope with the loss of your beloved family member and our close friends. Both of these men were dedicated employees to the Town of Cheraw, but more importantly they were dedicated family men, who will each leave behind spouses and children that loved them very much.
“For all of the emergency agencies that responded Monday, the professional and respectful manner in which you handled this devastating loss, gives the entire community a group of men and women that we can all be very proud of.
“A special thanks to the men and women of the Cheraw Fire Department, Cheraw Police Department, Cheraw Rescue Squad, Chesterfield County Coroner Kip Kiser, First Health, Cpt. Rob Lee and the South Carolina Highway Patrol MAIT Team, Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Department, CSX and CSX Railroad Police, Amtrak staff and personnel. In addition to these agencies, thank you to all the businesses, churches and individuals that called to offer assistance during this difficult day and in the days since. This reaction and sense of service makes me proud to live and serve in the Town of Cheraw.
“Please continue to lift up and pray for the Driggers and Locklear family and also the Cheraw family,” Hunter concluded his letter.
The Town of Cheraw has set up a memorial fund for anyone wishing to donate to assist the families. Checks can be made out to the Town of Cheraw/Memorial Fund and mailed to the Town of Cheraw, P.O. Box 219, Cheraw, SC 29520 or dropped off to the Cheraw Town Hall located at 200 Market St.
Also Tuesday, the council members discussed:
— The great turnout for the town’s Fourth of July celebration last Friday evening. Mayor Hunter reported a bustling downtown scene, and restaurants packed before and after the fireworks.
— Ways to finance the purchase and renovation of the large and vacant B.C. Moore’s warehouse building on Powe Street. At its regular meeting in June the council approved the first reading of an ordinance to purchase the structure for $600,000. The purchase is expected to be finalized at the council’s July meeting next week when the second reading of the ordinance is scheduled to occur. The town plans to clean and renovate the old warehouse to use as vehicle and equipment storage for the Public Works Department and Parks and Grounds. Also, there are plans to hold gymnastics classes inside the building. Hunter has said the estimated costs to fix up the large structure range from $150,000 to $250,000. Smith will ask the town’s bonding attorney to attend next week’s meeting and explain the three financing options available to the council.
— A proposed zoning amendment to allow the raising of chickens within the town limits. The matter is set for a first reading at the regular meeting Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.