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Daughter of Mendon train derailment victim speaks out after traumatic event in hopes changes will be made

'It felt like it was never going to end'
Posted at 8:07 PM, Jun 26, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-27 19:56:31-04

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Tiffany Powers now takes detours to avoid painful memories.

“Going over railroad tracks terrifies me, so we try to take roads to avoid any railroad tracks,” Powers said. “So no, I will never be on a train again.”

The last time she was on a train was June 27, 2022. She was aboard the Amtrak passenger train that derailed near Mendon, Missouri, when the train hit a dump truck that was trying to cross the tracks.

Powers was on a girls trip to Chicago with her mom, aunt and grandmother. They were planning to go sightseeing and shopping.

In an instant, Powers’ mother, Rachelle Cook, and aunt, Kim Holsapple, died in the crash. Powers and her grandmother survived.

“I just hope that no other family has to go through what me and my family has,” Powers told KSHB 41 Monday morning.

She said she decided to speak publicly for the first time because “changes need to be made."

While en route to Chicago, the party of four was planning to play cards to pass the time. But first, Powers, Cook and Holsapple excused themselves to the bathroom. They were waiting in line when the crash happened.

“It felt like it hit something,” Powers explained. "It flew us forward and then flew us back. At that time, within seconds, it fell to its side and started sliding on the gravel and dirt.”

Holsapple and Cook fell on the door, which was now the floor, and the door opened. Powers landed on some shelving next to the door.

“The train was sliding so fast and so hard on its side, the dirt and gravel just started covering my mom and aunt,” she said. “They were screaming. I was screaming. It felt like it was never going to end.

“Watching two people you absolutely love just get buried and pass away right in front of you is a traumatizing experience. Trying to find meaning [in the fact I survived,] some days are easier than others. But a lot of guilt every day.”

Powers meets with a counselor to help her sort through the emotions and frequent night terrors. She said her grandmother also works through mental health issues related to the crash.

To remember Cook and Holsapple, Powers and her family will visit their gravesites with purple balloons — both women loved the color purple. Then, they’ll have dinner together at the sisters’ favorite restaurant.

Powers said she sees reminders of the women nearly every day. Her mother loved butterflies and hummingbirds. Holsapple loved dragonflies.

“Any time we’re outside playing with the kids, or driving or at a sporting event, if any of them see a hummingbird, a butterfly or a dragonfly, they say, 'Well, they’re here checking on us,'” she said. “It’s pretty cute.”

Powers hired the Kuckelman Torline Kirkland law firm from Overland Park, Kansas, to file a wrongful death lawsuit against BNSF — which owns the tracks — and the company which owned the dump truck the train crashed into. Powers said the point of the suit is to create change.

Four months before the crash, the Missouri Department of Transportation placed this crossing on a list of crossings for which it recommended improvements. One year later, the improvements have not come, but barricades block vehicles from crossing the train tracks.

“I don’t understand if there is a crossing that is so unsafe, I don’t know why they don’t go and fix them to prevent things like this from happening because it is absolutely 100% preventable,” Powers said.

Full coverage of the derailment and what has been done since June 27, 2022, can be found HERE.