White River Junction woman recounts being struck by train

By JOHN LIPPMAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 05-04-2023 11:48 AM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — The woman who was stuck and injured by a freight train last month returned to her apartment on South Main Street on Monday, in excruciating pain from the injuries she suffered in the incident but grateful things did not turn out even worse.

“I’m just lucky to be alive.” Betsy Hallahan said on Tuesday, less then 24 hours after she “discharged myself out” out of Mt. Ascutney Hospital, where she had been undergoing rehab.

On April 20, Hallahan was struck by a train in a rail yard a few minutes’ walk from her apartment in the center of the village that she shares with Allen Swasey, who she was walking to meet that day at a Ratcliffe Park.

“I was just trying to be a good person and bring you some food, that’s it,” Hallahan said addressing Swasey, who sat with her in their apartment Tuesday morning as she recounted the incident.

The following day, Hartford police reported that a woman was in stable condition at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon after she was found “conscious, breathing and alert with injuries” alongside the railroad tracks near Latham Works Lane at around 5 p.m.

Police, who did not identify the woman at the time, said it appeared she had been “hit by a train.”

On Tuesday, Hallahan, 56, told the Valley News that she had purchased dinner at Big Fatty’s BBQ on South Main Street at around 4:45 p.m. and was taking a shortcut through the rail yard in White River Junction to Ratcliffe Park on Latham Works Lane where she was going to meet Swasey “for a picnic dinner.”

She tripped and fell next to the railroad tracks.

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“I was having trouble stepping over them because my strength wasn’t there, and I tripped and fell and then the train came,” said Hallahan.

As she regained her feet, she became aware of a “three-car freight train” that was rolling southward along the track.

“The next thing I know, the police are there. An ambulance is there. They shut down the railroad tracks and cut off my clothes and put me in the ambulance. I don’t remember much after that. I went into shock,” she said.

Hallahan believes the only thing that saved her life is the backpack she was wearing, which shielded her from the impact the train. She said the backpack was ripped off of her and found “smoldering” near the train tracks.

Hallahan suffered a fractured left ankle, a fractured vertebra, laceration of her scalp, a collapsed lung, multiple rib fractures and injury to her spleen, according to her medical discharge record.

Pronounced bruises, cuts and scrapes are still evident on Hallahan’s arms and legs. Her swollen left foot and leg are wrapped in thick bandages, along with a cast that nearly extends to her knee.

“I have 10 staples in my head and a foot full of lead,” she said, describing a brace the doctors put around her foot that “looked like an erector set.”

“They didn’t really want me to leave the hospital, but I wanted to come home. I wanted to see my cat. I hadn’t seen him in two weeks,” Hallahan added.

Hallahan’s phone, which was found smoldering near the railroad tracks where she was struck, was destroyed, leaving her without access to email or her contacts, including her apartment manager to explain to him why she didn’t pay her rent on time.

“It’s like you lose your phone, you lose your life,” Hallahan said.

She said “visiting nurses” will come to her apartment to check up on her.

A yellow wrist band from the hospital indicates that Hallahan was considered at risk for a fall. And she says she is plagued by rheumatoid arthritis, which she believes contributed to her fall at the railroad tracks.

Hallahan has lived in her apartment above the Center for Cartoon Studies — managed by the Vermont State Housing Authority — for five years. Hallahan said she previously resided in Woodstock for more than 15 years, where she provided daycare “to a rich fellow.” She earlier lived in Henniker, N.H., and grew up in Hudson, N.H.

Hallahan said she survives on $950 per month in Social Security payments and a “couple hundred dollars” per month in food stamps. She said the meal she bought for herself and Swasey at Fatty’s BBQ was a rare splurge: 14 ounces of pulled chicken along with mac and cheese and a side of bacon “can last three days.”

“I live by the skin of my teeth,” she said.

Technically, Hallahan was trespassing on railroad property and could be charged on a trespassing violation, but Hartford Police Lt. Scott Moody said that would be uncalled for under the circumstances.

“I don’t see where this is something that we would be looking to file charges on her,” Moody said Monday, noting that Hallahan is paying a steep personal cost for exhibiting poor judgment by cutting through the train yard.

“She’s got some significant medical injuries, and the recovery time is going to be significant,” he said.

“Let’s use this as a teaching moment for others.”

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.

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