Biloxi’s first black councilman, Michael Esters, was killed 34 years ago this month at the same Main Street railroad crossing where four people died Tuesday when a train hit their tour bus.
Esters was 31 and had been elected to the City Council two years earlier.
The Daily Herald, predecessor of the Sun Herald, reported Esters was driving south at 11:10 p.m. March 23, 1983. Both the L&N train that broadsided Ester’s car and the CSX train that hit the tour bus were eastbound.
It was a dark and drizzly night, recalled Stephen Cook, who was about to get off duty with the Biloxi Police Department and was the first to arrive at the crash.
“I remember that wreck like it was yesterday,” Cook told the Sun Herald on Wednesday. It is one of those few times, he said, that he truly believes wearing a seat belt would have saved a life.
Esters was driving fast and there were no crossing lights on Main Street, the Daily Herald reported.
The car door flew open when the train hit it and Esters was thrown out, Cook said.
The car was dragged about 85 feet and overturned in a ditch, the police report said. Esters was pinned under it until rescue workers freed him with the Jaws of Life. He died in that ditch, Cook said.
“The car didn’t look that bad,” Cook said, which is why he said if Esters had been wearing a seatbelt, “I think he’d have walked away from it.”
Councilman Robert Deming II said Wednesday his vehicle also was hit at a train crossing in Biloxi. He knows the date — June 30, 1996 — but said, “I don’t remember anything about it.” For about three months he would wake up to his mother telling him, “I’m your mom,” and no memory of his family.
He’s known other people who have had family members killed in train accidents and said, “These have always been a concern for me.”
After the accident that killed Esters, Cook was interviewed by a Gulfport law firm. It was a very short meeting, he said, but he remembers someone saying research showed there were fewer than 3,000 crossings in Mississippi at the time, and all were ranked for safety.
Two in Biloxi, a few blocks apart, were ranked second worst and fourth worst, he said. “One of them was the Main Street crossing.”
Records at the Biloxi Public Library’s History & Genealogy Department show Esters’ wife, Gail, served on Biloxi council until Bill Stallworth was elected. Stallworth was a friend of Esters’ and said at the time that, ironically, Esters was planning to introduce a resolution to require safety lights at all crossings in the city.
The City Council renamed the street south of the railroad tracks Esters Boulevard in his memory.