By Herb Meeker
News Report Staff
An Effingham man with strong ties to Altamont was killed when he was hit by an Amtrak passenger train early Sunday morning at the Jefferson Avenue rail crossing, based on a preliminary investigation by Effingham Police Department.
Todd Arnold, 53, the Altamont Unit 10 School District Athletic Director and the assistant high school principal, was walking along the sidewalk at the crossing when the fatality occurred sometime before 12:23 a.m. Sunday.
Arnold was accompanied by a relative and friend as the three headed west and the southbound passenger train approached Jefferson. Arnold was pronounced dead at the scene by the Effingham County Coroner’s office after police officers and other emergency responders were called to the scene.
What caused the pedestrian-train fatality has not yet been determined, said Effingham Police Chief Jeff Fuesting on Monday. He said follow-up interviews were being conducted due to the shock from Sunday morning.
“We know the lights and gates were operating properly. We’re doing follow-up interviews because this was a tragic incident and the people close to him were in shock when they were talking with officers,” Fuesting explained.
The crossing has lighted gates that block the flow of motor vehicle traffic, but the gates do not restrict pedestrians along the sidewalk.
At this point, it is not clear whether Arnold was distracted or tried to cross the tracks quickly and misjudged the speed of the train. Amtrak runs passenger trains around midnight, as well as other time slots along the Canada Rail Road line that extends from Chicago to New Orleans.
The tragedy came as a shock for both Effingham and Altamont residents. Arnold was a talented athlete at Effingham High School more than three decades ago. As assistant AHS principal and athletic director for more than 20 years, he was well-known to different generations of the Altamont community. He was also a basketball coach. He had completed work on the latest National Trail Conference Tournament just a few hours before the fatality.
It was announced on the Altamont schools website that grief counselors would be on hand throughout this week as needed. Visitation was scheduled for this afternoon (Thursday) at Altamont High School.
The school website also asked the school district, the community and all who knew Arnold to keep him and his family in their thoughts and prayers.