A man who drove around a line of cars waiting at a train crossing in Portland and collided with an Amtrak Downeaster train Friday morning could face criminal charges, police say.

Police say Derso Mekonen, 56, of Portland had two children in his 2008 Nissan Sentra when he drove around cars waiting at a railroad crossing on Brighton Avenue near St. John Street and into the southbound Amtrak Downeaster train 682 at 8 a.m. The train crossing signals were working at the time, and the gates were down.

Mekonen was taken to Maine Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries. The two children in the car, ages 5 and 9, were not injured, and were released to their mother after being checked out by paramedics at the scene. The children were not related to Mekonen and no one on the train was injured, police said.

Portland police Lt. Robert Doherty said police and rescue workers were called to the crossing shortly after 8 a.m. and found the car stopped next to the tracks with Mekonen and the two children still inside.

Doherty said video footage from Amtrak and a nearby gas station showed that Mekonen, who was on Brighton Avenue headed toward downtown Portland, drove around the line of cars and maneuvered around the safety barrier before striking the train as it passed.

“If it’s determined he did this intentionally, he’ll be charged criminally,” he said.

Portland police are still investigating the crash; a decision whether to charge Mekonen will be made when the investigation is finished.

Mekonen does not have a criminal record in Maine.

Doherty said it did not appear the crash was caused by a medical issue.

Kenny Tripp, 48, who lives in an apartment complex less than 1,000 yards from the crossing, said he was awoken by the blare of a train horn. Usually trains do not sound the horn at that crossing, he said.

Tripp said he looked out the window and saw a small gray car inside the safety barriers.

The driver could not get out of the car in time, Tripp said, and the locomotive struck the car’s front left fender and bumper.

He said the driver appeared to be OK.

“He’s lucky he’s alive, boy,” Tripp said. “Somebody’s watching out for him.”

Tripp said he’s seen drivers try to beat the trains before, and said he was surprised such a crash hadn’t happened before.

The Federal Railroad Administration reported 11 highway-rail incidents in Maine in 2016. One involved a pedestrian and the 10 others were vehicles. Three of the incidents involved Amtrak.

The last car-train collision at the Brighton Avenue crossing occurred in March 1984, according to FRA data. No one was injured when an engine pulling 18 cars struck by an unoccupied car that was stalled in the crossing.

On Friday, traffic was diverted off Brighton Avenue onto side streets toward Congress Street.

The Amtrak Downeaster Train 682 was moved from the crossing by 8:45 a.m. It was delayed about 40 minutes because of the crash, according to a tweet from Amtrak.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: grahamgillian

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.