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Stratton, NE Train And Sunday School Bus Collide, Aug 1976


Stratton, Neb. (AP) -- A freight train roared into a dusty crossing, ripping into a bus on its was to Sunday School. Nine persons -- seven of them children -- died amid glass shards and penny lillipops scattered in the tall grass.
There were 17 persons on the bus, 15 of them children. All were from Stratton. The eight survivors were all injured.
"It was real bad listening to them cry and seeing them laying there," said town marshal Ron Longsine, the only policeman in this farming town of 480 people. "It's something aperson never wants to see."
The Rev. Thomas B. Nerren, 44, pastor of the Stratton Church of Christ, was making his regular Sunday morning run with his wife to pick up children. Two stops remained before the bus would have returned to the one-story frame church.
Officials said a warning flasher was operating at the railroad crossing.
But the bus "just kept coming," said train engineer Floyd Wesch, 51, of McCook.
"I thought for sure the bus was going to stop. But I don't think the driver ever saw me."
"Probably he (the minister) was talking to his wife ... or she was standing in the doorway and he didn't see it," Longsine said. "I think he just pulled right out across and the train hit him."
"It's just chaos, that's all," said Paul Carlson, conductor on the train. "There were just bodies all over, blankets being carried over, little kids crying. It was just hell, that's all."
The 67-car Burlington Northern freight was rolling at 50 to 60 miles an hour, railroad officials said. The REV. MR. NERREN was killed outright. His wife, SHIRLENE, 31, died on an airplane en route to a Denver hospital.
One of their two sons, THOMAS, 8, was also killed. So were CINDY JO MINARY, 3, and DEBRA MINARY, 7, daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Minary; JULIANNA SCARROW, 4, STEVEN LLOYD SCARROW, 3, and JENNIFER SCARROW, 7, children of Mr. and Mrs. Cecil Scarrow; and HOLLY SCHOENBERGER, 3, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Schoenberger.
The NERRENS' other son WILLIAM, 3, was hospitalized in Denver. Doctors said he and the other seven injured are expected to live.
In addition to the swinging red flasher, the crossing is protected by a warning sign. Wesch said the bus "was only going about 15 miles an hour ... He could have stopped. Then I thought he was going to go across all right. Another 10 feet and he would have made (it) ..."
"Then when I saw him head onto the tracks, I gave a hard, long blast and put on the emergency (brake). But there was no way we could stop. When you're going 60 miles an hour, there's not much you can do."
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were due on the scene today.

The Oelwein Daily Register Iowa 1976-08-09


I covered it

I was the AP staffer based in Omaha who covered this tragedy back in 1976. I will never forget that day or the week I spent in Stratton and McCook following the story. It's odd seeing the words I wrote and dictated over the phone to Omaha here on the internet so many years later. I searched it out after learning of the shooting rampage in Connecticut today, and remembering how this accident affected tiny Stratton, NE. The town was never the same, nor was I. It is difficult covering stories like this, especially before the technology we have cell phones and laptops and wifi and such.......this story was covered the old fashioned person, via pay phone, chartered small planes, drivers sent with film to North Platte to transmit photographs and face to face talking with those involved and those who saw it happen.


article | by Dr. Radut