By ROBERT S. MERRILL
A cleanup process of a train derailment in Dayton that occurred on Wednesday, Jan. 9, is on going and will continue during the next couple of days.
A northbound Union Pacific train derailed west of Preston at approximately 10 a.m. Wednesday morning and a fatality occurred, according to Idaho State Police. A Franklin County dump truck driven by Heber Lewis, 56, of Preston, was headed eastbound on State Highway 36, when it impacted the train at the crossing.
His funeral will be held on Tuesday afternoon. Following the funeral, a motorcade of county road department vehicles will lead the procession to the Preston Cemetery.
County Commission chair Dirk Bowles said all county offices will be closed on Tuesday from 12:30-3 p.m. to allow employees an opportunity to attend the funeral.
“I’ve done some checking around and this is the first time anyone can remember that a county employee has died on the job or while employed,” he said. “Lewis was a giving man with a gruff exterior. We all saw that side of him.
“But what many didn’t know was the kinder, more gentle side of Lewis. He played Santa Claus for years and almost always would not take payment for his services. When he came to the hospital as Santa, he would just tell those in charge to donate his ‘pay’ to the hospice organization.
“He will be tough to replace,” said Bowles.
Commissioner Scott Workman echoed Bowles statement. “I went to school with Lewis and have known him all my life. He was always out in the community doing something of value and fit the part of Santa very well. He was a character. . .an extremely good man who will be missed.”
Lewis had worked for Franklin County for 33 years. His immediate supervisor Troy Moser, director of the county’s road and bridge department, said Lewis was a great employee.
Moser said Lewis was the first to respond when an emergency situation occurred in the county. Lewis was one of 12 Road and Bridge employees
Besides playing Santa, Lewis was also a motorcycle enthusiast and spent many hours with family and friends riding. He loved to travel and the outdoors.
He is survived by his wife, Diane, and four children; Leann, Laci, Bubba and Bailey and eight grandchildren.
An account has been set up for Lee and Diane Lewis at Lewiston State Bank in Preston to help with expenses.
The crossing where the accident occurred is equipped with flashing red lights that were functioning properly at the time of the accident, said ISP officials.
According to an ISP press release, there was thick fog in the area. The truck struck the side of the train that was already in the railroad crossing near milepost 127. Up to 16 cars of the train were derailed and the tracks were damaged in the crash, according to the release.
Lewis succumbed to his injuries at the scene.
Immediately following the accident, local law enforcement officials closed State Highway 36 in both directions at the railroad crossing at approximately 4025 West Side Highway 36. The road remained closed on Friday. It was opened over the weekend, but was closed periodically on Monday and Tuesday to allow for removal of the cars, said officials.
“Our hearts go out to the family and friends of the driver of the truck. An incident like this one can have a severe impact on Union Pacific train crews and, by extension, the entire Union Pacific family,” said Aaron Hunt, a spokesman for Union Pacific Railroad.
Eyewitnesses living adjacent to the railroad tracks said the train was traveling northbound and conditions were foggy at the time of the accident.
“We heard the train sound it’s horn as it approached the crossing and a few seconds later heard a terrible grinding, crunching sound,” said Nicole and Chris Merrill, collectively. “We immediately knew something bad had happened. We called 911 to report the accident to the Franklin County Sheriff’s dispatcher.”
Sheriff’s deputies, Franklin County Fire officials, ambulance personnel and Idaho State Police were on scene shortly after.
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