RALIEGH, N.C. — Hemmed in by cars on both sides of the railroad tracks, Deborah Bingham backed into the path of the speeding Amtrak train that killed her sleeping sons at an East Durham rail crossing, according to a police report released Tuesday.
No charges were filed in the Dec. 9 crash.
Four crossing gates descended after Bingham drove her Ford Explorer north across three railroad tracks in heavy afternoon traffic a little after 5 p.m.
A gate on the north side of the tracks struck her windshield, the Durham Police Department report said. Then, Bingham backed the SUV onto the southernmost of the three tracks.
"She tried to move forward, and there was a vehicle, and she tried to move back," said Kammie Michael, spokeswoman for Durham Police. "She only had a very short period of time that she could do something.
"There were vehicles in front of her and behind her, and that is why she could not move further than she did."
Bingham was attempting to move forward again when her SUV was struck by the Amtrak Carolinian, heading west at 74 mph, the report said. The two children, asleep in the back seat without seat belts, were thrown out of the Explorer as it spun.
The impact killed Calvin Brandon, 9, and Hasan Bingham, 6, who lived with their mother in Durham. Deborah Bingham, who was wearing a seat belt, was treated for minor injuries at Duke Medical Center.
The police report indicates that Bingham and her children might have escaped injury if she had stayed in place just north of the tracks after the crossing gate struck her windshield.
Michael said police investigators agreed with state and railroad officials that the rail crossing's warning lights and bells and crossing gates appear to have operated properly.
It still was not clear Tuesday whether the lights started flashing before or after Bingham first drove onto the tracks in the slow traffic.
Durham resident Tina Green was three cars back on Ellis Road when she saw Bingham's SUV on the tracks ahead.
"She went back and then she came forward -- and, like, five seconds later, the train came and hit the truck," Green said Tuesday.
Joan Bagherpour, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation Rail Division, said state officials had not received the police report.
Other crash probed
The Federal Railroad Administration is conducting its own investigations of both the Ellis Road crash and a second car-train crash last week at an Orange County rail crossing, where an Efland mother and son were killed.
Erin Brett Lindsay-Calkins, 26, a Raleigh native who spent her childhood in Fuquay-Varina, died with her 5-year-old son, Nicholas Lindsay.
Initial reports indicate that Lindsay-Calkins struck and broke a crossing gate on Mount Willing Road near Efland in an attempt to drive around it as it was descending. The Highway Patrol has not filed its report on the Dec. 22 crash.
DOT officials and rail safety advocates will wage an education campaign in Durham next month to remind drivers about rail-crossing hazards.
"We are planning a safety blitz at the Ellis Road crossing," Bagherpour said. "People will be out there stopping motorists as they proceed across the tracks, giving them tips on what to do.
"We have done it across the state at different times where we felt it was necessary. And we feel it is necessary at Ellis Road."