Just before 9:40 a.m. on Saturday, a Missoula police officer responded to 500 Taylor Street to meet with Montana Rail Link employees regarding an intrusion into MRL property and tampering with MRL control boxes.
An employee reported seeing Tracy Ronning, a 58-year-old man, walking along the tracks near the Taylor Street crossing. He watched Ronning tamper with the lock on the control box. He saw Ronning open the door and start playing with the internal equipment. Police Information Officer Lydia Arnold explains.
“Officers were told that Ronning had entered Montana Rail Link property and was causing damage,” said Arnold. “When officers arrived at the scene, MRL employees were able to explain to officers that Ronning had entered a control signal box and was able to disable the train signals.”
MRL employees immediately saw that Ronning had shut off all power switches to the crossing warning devices. When an employee examined each of the boxes, he took photographs to document the condition they were in, then repaired them or the internal equipment or mechanisms to return them to the working condition they were in. were before being falsified.
“This is an extreme danger to public safety as the signaling of an upcoming train would not have worked if MRL employees could not see that the box was damaged,” Arnold said. “Pedestrians and drivers in the area would not have been informed that a train was crossing the level crossing. Fortunately, there was no incident. “
MRL employees said there could easily have been a collision between a vehicle or pedestrian and a train. An employee explained that in a collision the train always wins and is an inherently fatal situation for anyone struck by a train. He said controlled level crossings exist for public safety, as train collisions almost exclusively end in death or serious injury.
The employee said the Taylor Street crossing exists primarily to notify tankers filled with petroleum fuels when it is safe to cross the tracks. He said these trucks often pull double trailers full of fuel from the north side of the tracks to the south side of the tracks. Immediately south of this junction is a busy petrol station and the Eastgate Shopping Center. He said if a train collided with a tanker, the damage would be catastrophic.
By altering and cutting off power to MRL’s essential safety equipment, Ronning created a substantial risk of death or serious injury to the general public using the crossing. He is currently charged with criminal endangerment, criminal trespassing and criminal interference with property.
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