LEETONIA, Ohio (WYTV) – Forty-six years ago, a deadly train crash in Leetonia changed the lives of many. Today, a reunion was held between a survivor and the Leetonia Fire Department. One of their firefighters had helped a man through one of the worst days of his life.
In 1975, three trains crashed in Leetonia, leaving three injured and one dead. One of the engineers was trapped during the incident and today came back to say thank you to the firefighter who saved his life.
Forty-one cars and seven huge engines were derailed on June 7, 1975, due to the first train having engine failure, which led to improper control of the second train.
Raphael Pierce was 21 at the time of the crash. He was trapped under a rock and had to wait hours for a surgeon to come and remove him from the wreckage.
Pierce says the one thing he remembers to this day is the voice of volunteer firefighter Gary Steele. Steele talked to him for hours and stayed by his side until help arrived.
“That was about probably the third hour and it was his voice and then, put my hand and squeezed my ankle. I thought, ‘I got a chance now,'” Pierce said.
Even after all this time, Pierce says he still feels tied to the guys at the fire station. They all understand what he went through that night, which created an unbreakable bond.
Steele says after they got Pierce out, he went to the hospital to see how he was doing.
“I gotta go in and see how he’s doing because I sat with him for all that time. I walked into his room and he looked over. I said, ‘I know you don’t know me.’ He said, ‘I know the voice,'” Steele said.
Pierce ended up losing his arm but that didn’t stop him one bit. After he healed, he decided to travel. Then he went to college to get a degree to help people battle addiction.
“I’ve had a really good life and I’m happy about that and I wouldn’t of had the chance to do all that if it wasn’t for these guys here,” Pierce said.
Karen Arnoto met Pierce a couple of years ago and knew he wanted to come back and thank Steele and the fire department. So, she helped organize this reunion.
Arnoto says this is what community is all about.
“Through this community, a lot of things depend on neighbors and friendships and more than anything in life, the friendships are what develop out of an incident like this,” Arnoto said.
Pierce says he now has all their phone numbers and doesn’t plan on letting another 46 years pass before meeting up again.