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After death of 22-month-old girl, Hardin community pushes for law requiring fences around railroad tracks

'Harper's Law' would honor Harper Hattock, who died May 13 in train accident
Harper Hattock.jpg
Posted at 3:15 PM, May 25, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-31 16:23:29-04

HARDIN, Mo. — After the tragedy that continues to shake the small town of Hardin, community members are pushing for added safety measures surrounding the railroad tracks that run through the town.

"She's definitely loved and she's definitely missed," Dustin Shaner said.

Under a blue tent lay fluffy stuffed animals, toys, flowers, sparkly things and snacks — all things a toddler like Harper Wren Paige Hattock would love.

The tent also shields crosses and words of kindness expressing condolences to Harper's family.

Pictures showing Harper's chubby cheeks and squinty smile, with the railroad tracks in the background, set a somber scene.

Harper memorial
Harper's family set up a memorial, where lots of people have left trinkets to honor her memory.

Shaner set up the tent to make sure the memorial for his niece, Harper, stays preserved.

"Anybody around who wants to show love to Harper, this is for her," Shaner said. "She was very loved and this definitely was a tragic accident that a lot of us wish we could take back."

Harper, who would be two in June, walked outside her house on the morning of Saturday May 13. There were other people in the house at the time but her family says it happened so quick.

Going after her puppy, she wandered onto the train tracks, which are just past the front yard. The engineer driving the oncoming train tried to stop but couldn't.

"I know the [engineer] is just as heartbroken as we are," Shaner said. "I know he did everything he could to stop. I know that he had to go get help immediately, and we're thinking of him and his family."

Through this inconceivable loss, Harper's family wants to see change.

"We're going to be moving forward for her and doing a lot of great things for her in the future and keeping her memory alive, 'cause she was too special to let it end like that," Shaner said.

That's where Jared Shepard jumped in.

"A fence would have stopped this," Shepard said.

Shepard runs the tire shop in town and he's a new city council member. He's pushing for a new state law that they'd call Harper's Law.

It would require fencing around railroad tracks, especially in towns like Hardin.

"Her bed's 50 yards from the railroad tracks and there's nothing to stop it," Shepard said. "She walked right out the front door, and there's no ditch, no nothing."

But Shepard doesn't want to wait until next legislative session. He wants the town on board now. He says fencing companies have already offered to donate fencing.

They just need Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad company's permission.

"I wanted a four-foot fence and I think the railroad will want a six," Shepard said. "We won't be able to stop somebody from going around, but we can stop a baby."

Shepard says he's doing this because he has grandkids around Harper's age.

"It could happen anywhere else tomorrow," Shepard said.

Trains are a daily part of life in Hardin, but some of the trains bolt through the town at speeds residents guess reach 70 to 75 miles per hour.

KSHB 41 witnessed it when we were there covering the story.

"That’s gotta be fixed," Shepard said. "What town can you drive 70 mile-an-hour through in your car? Why can a mile-and-a-half long train come through our town at 70?"

Shepard points out that Missouri already has a law that requires fencing around farmland to prevent cattle and other livestock from walking onto the tracks.

"All they got to do is rewrite the law," Shepard said.

On May 31 at 6 p.m., the city will hold a meeting to discuss forming a committee for Harper's Law. It'll happen in the City Hall Community Room.