The crew of a Southern California police helicopter prevented what could have been a disastrous crash Saturday night by shining the chopper's spotlight to warn an oncoming train of a car stalled on the tracks.
It happened around 10:30 p.m. Saturday, when the Riverside Department's Air Support Unit learned a car had lost control, rolled over and come to rest on the railroad tracks near Dewey Street and Streeter Avenue. The driver was later arrested on suspicion of drunken driving, police said.
Officers saw a freight train about two miles away heading toward the stalled vehicle at between 30 and 35 mph.
The police pilots knew they had to act quickly because of how long it takes a train to come to a full stop. They pulled the helicopter ahead of the train, lowered it and used the spotlight in a crisscross pattern to signal the train.
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Members of the chopper crew told NBC4 they thought there still might be a collision. The crew found the car in the residential area and continued signaling for the train to stop.
The engineer saw the lights and began to slow the 2-mile-long train, which screeched to a stop just 40 feet away from the stalled car, authorities said.
"The conductor said had it not been for the flight crew intervening to signal him, he would not have had enough time to stop the train before striking the vehicle," Riverside police said in a news release.
"We deal with all different types of calls, but I've never had to stop a train or get a train's attention," said Riverside police pilot Chris Tavaglione.