SMOKE: Death By Train

Originally published: 24 April 2003

A story on News24 caught my eye on Tuesday - not because of the incredible talent of the headline-writer, but because I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

The headline was "Train crushes bakkie driver", and while most folks would probably go: "Bugger me - check at that. Must read that story," I go: "Jesus Harold Christ - not another. What's with okes getting stuck on train tracks?"

The result is the same - we all go read the story - but I felt I had to share my incredulity with you and give you some insight as to precisely what I find so fascinating.

A Volksrust, Mpumalanga man - Johannes Engelbrecht (44) - was killed after his bakkie got stuck on a level crossing at about 4am on Friday morning. He and a "woman friend" were driving along a Spoornet service road and turned when they came to the level crossing.

The bakkie got stuck when a wheel caught in one of the railway sleepers and while the couple were pushing the vehicle to get it free a train arrived at pace. The "woman friend" leaped to safety but Johannes was crushed against his bakkie, dying on the spot.

The only statement Spoornet have released on the incident is rather sparse: "It is illegal for motorists to use its (Spoornet's) service roads."

Not that one would expect flowing rhetoric backed up by clever, witty, yet understanding anecdotes about the dangers of soliciting prostitutes on service roads in the dead of night, but I'm sure they could have done better than that.

Whatever the case - what an absolutely extraordinary story.

Think about it - you've heard of people getting killed when caught with their vehicle on the railway tracks, haven't you? More than once? Sure. At the risk of sounding horribly American - what's up with that? Why do so many people get killed trying to cross train tracks? It just doesn't make sense to me.

One would think that people would understand that if you cross railway tracks with your car in the dead of night, at some level-crossing in the middle of nowhere, your car is bound to get stuck just as it neatly straddles the xylophone.

And you should know by now that if your car gets stuck in this fashion, within mere minutes a train will appear and smash it to bits. It doesn't matter if the train only passes that spot once a week - if your car gets stuck there, it will be passing at that time and moment, give or take 15 minutes.


It's the same philosophy I apply to most things: don't stick your head in the mouth of a savage alligator and you won't die by having your head bitten off by one. Don't wrangle the deadliest snakes on Earth and you're unlikely to get bitten to death by one of the bastards in the middle of your lunchtime show.

If you don't bungee-jump you're not likely to die from plummeting headfirst into the hard rock at 160km/h, crushing your neck, vertebrae and cranium as if they were nought but a twig.

Don't work in law enforcement as an undercover mafioso and you won't get tortured to within an inch of your life before being dropped with weights into the ocean by a bunch of fat Italians who "was onto ya awl along" and who have an unreasoning yet determined hatred of policemen who infiltrate their ranks and spill da beans on Johnny Two-Fingers.

And most of all - don't hang out with Mahendra Raghunath and you won't be charmed to death by his killer smile, natty threads and general good-guy demeanour.

The thing I'm getting at is that so often people die in predictable ways: "Hey check it out, guys - I can hang from this electricity pylon with my bare hands", or "I know guys - let's play Russian Roulette", or "Hey - let's cross this railway line at a spooky four in the morning on an illegal sliproad - I'm sure we won't get stuck."

You will. The averages are against you. Take the long way round. Or at the very least - if you must cross a track in a bucket of bolts, and if the thing stops - for whatever reason - get out of the vehicle and off the tracks.

And if you're determined to push it out of the way, at least open your eyes and ears and be aware of the potential for a train to happen along. Surely you would expect one?

I dunno. Maybe I'm too cautious. But I've lived 30 years and as yet I have not died from diving under ice and seeing how long I can hold my breath, nor have I had my head sawn off by Mayan Indians for violating their sacred and ancient burial grounds.

I've never told a gangster that I think he's a gay, I've never swum with Great Whites, I've never attempted to build a thermonuclear device in my garage, I've skipped the allure of being a knife-thrower's assistant on the Wheel Of Death, I don't regularly visit the Amazon and I definitely don't cross railway lines in the dead of dark, cold, lonely, murderous nights.

So if you ask me I'm doing OK. So far. Just gotta avoid Mahendra.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
Spending time online does bad things to a person, but I'm OK.

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Copyright © Luke Tagg. All rights reserved. A few lefts as well.

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