The crescent-shaped scar starts somewhere on the scalp beneath the thicket of Stacey Simmons’ dark brown hair, then curves down the left side of her face toward her temple, barely skirting her eye. It took 37 stitches to close and a month to heal.
It’s the only evidence left, physical or emotional, of what happened to Simmons, 21, on a bright Saturday morning in April 1992. She is one of the lucky ones to survive an accident with a train.
Simmons, her two younger sisters and another girl were on their way to Biloxi to walk in a fundraiser for multiple sclerosis victims. It was about 10 a.m., and the girls had just left their Guinn Street home and were headed south on Tegarden Road toward the beach and the railroad tracks.
Simmons, who was driving, was about 170 feet from the tracks when she saw the westbound CSX freight train about to nose over the crossing. She slammed on the brakes, which locked. The car skidded and hit the third engine pulling the 110-car train, which then began to pull the car along with it.
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Simmons climbed out of the driver’s side as the car was dragged, hit her head on the moving train and fell to the side, bleeding. The next thing she knew, she was in an ambulance taking her to Memorial Hospital at Gulfport.
There, police arrested her on a charge of speeding and reckless driving. Then surgeons cleaned and closed the wound on her head. The other three girls were fine; they stayed in the car but were unhurt.
Looking back, she says the car she was driving that day — her parents’ 1972 Ford Gran Torino, nicknamed “The Tank” — may have saved her companions’ life and her own.
“I don’t think it ever really entered my mind that I could have died,” she said in July. “But when I think about it, I guess I really was lucky. I was in a big car. A lot of people driving those little tiny cars don’t live through it.”
After the train had dragged it 50 feet down the tracks, the car fell off and rolled between a pole and the control box for the crossing’s warning lights. The car stopped on a dirt road near the tracks.
Simmons says the train didn’t blow its horn as it approached the crossing, and that the crossing’s lights — it does not have gates — didn’t work. The girls had the windows down and the radio on.
The railroad says the crew blew the horn, and the lights worked.
Whether they did will forever be a case of CSX’s word against Simmons’. She did not sue the railroad because she didn’t want the hassle of a lawsuit she might not win.
‘Deal with it’
The city dropped the reckless driving charge and let Simmons attend a defensive-driving course to work off the speeding charge.
She still says she was not driving recklessly, or speeding. Police disagree. Shortly after the accident, they measured the skid marks on the road. One was 163 feet long, the other 142.
Police used a table to calculate how fast the car had been going before Simmons braked. They concluded she had been going 55 to 60 mph.
Simmons said she was going about 35, and that the dew on the ground might have caused her car to skid farther.
“I saw the train, and I remember putting both feet on the brake,” she said. “I probably would have been able to stop if I hadn’t slammed on the brakes, but I guess I pretty much panicked. That big ol’ train sitting there, it kind of scared me.”
But she usually doesn’t think about the wreck, although she still gets teased about running into a train. She’s working toward a degree in business management and works as a bookkeeper at Dibs Chemical and Supply Co. in Gulfport.
Simmons has no specific plans and no regrets. She does have a change of habit.
“I’m not hyperactive or hysterical about things like that. I reach it, deal with it and go on,” she said.
“But I do slow down a lot more when I come across railroad tracks.”
Read the series:
One who made it: A Gulfport woman lived through a wreck with a train