A 19-year-old driver who was killed in a collision with a freight train Dec. 28 rolled through a stop sign at the railroad tracks before the crash, according to the Idaho Transportation Department’s collision report.
Peter “PJ” Francois died at the scene. The Boise State University student, who was pre-med and in the Honors College, was driving home from work and within a mile of his house when the accident happened.
The account of what occurred before the collision came from video footage from a camera on the train and eyewitnesses, Ada County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Patrick Orr said.
Shari Francois, PJ’s mother, said she believes her son’s vehicle slid through the crossing due to snow or ice on the road. She said the coroner told her that her son’s cell phone was located in the glovebox of his car.
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“There’s no way that my son would just not stop at a stop sign,” she said. “This kid was not a non-cautious person. I think it was slick.”
The ITD crash report lists the weather conditions as cloudy and the road condition as dry. Shari Francois said photos of her son’s car after the crash show snow around it.
Toxicology tests showed that Francois did not have any alcohol or drugs in his system at the time of the collision, Ada County Coroner Dotti Owens said Wednesday.
The collision occurred at a railroad crossing on Black Cat Road, near the intersection with North Greenhurst Road, on the west side of Kuna.
At about 3 p.m. Dec. 28, Francois was driving a 2004 white Subaru Impreza south on Black Cat Road when he collided with the westbound Union Pacific train. The train struck the driver’s side of the vehicle, knocking it to the right shoulder of the road, the crash report says.
There is a stop sign at that train crossing — but no crossing gates or flashing lights. This is the first crash at the crossing since at least 1997, Ada County Highway District spokesman Craig Quintana said.
Quintana said it’s a fairly typical rural railroad crossing. It gets about 800 vehicle trips per day, which is considered a low traffic volume. The crossing ranked 68th in the state for predicted crash risk, but fourth in Ada County, according to the Idaho Transportation Department.
A multi-agency serious accident team, including the Ada County Sheriff’s Office, ACHD, ITD, Union Pacific Railroad and Operation Life Saver, investigated the crash and recommended additional safety features be added at the crossing.
“Everybody looked at it, and the group recommended both warning lights and crossing arms be put out there,” Quintana said.
As part of the investigation into the safety of the crossing, an Ada County Sheriff’s deputy observed traffic there on the afternoon of Dec. 30. In one hour, he observed 42 vehicles come to a stop, and six that rolled through it slowly while looking. The deputy noted that a majority of drivers were talking on a cellphone and holding it in their left hand. He believed that was impacting their line of sight to the left.
Quintana said a ballpark figure for how much the gates and lights would cost is about $100,000, and ACHD is pursuing federal money to make it happen.
Francois’s family has been devastated by his death.
“I cry every day, for 11 weeks,” his mother said. “This has destroyed our family. This boy was so precious.”