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Train wreck claims St. George firefighter

  • Updated
Train wreck claims St. George firefighter

A pickup truck is hauled Sunday from the railroad tracks near Ann Street and NW Railroad Avenue in St. George.

ST. GEORGE — The man who was killed trying to drive across a train track Sunday spent much of his time trying to help people who were in trouble.

Richard Willis, 27, of St. George worked for both the Grover Volunteer Fire Department and the Santee Fire Department. He also was an emergency medical technician with STAT Ambulance Service.

Willis started volunteering for the Grover department about five years ago, Chief Wesley Infinger said.

“He was really dedicated and went above and beyond what he really had to,” Infinger said.

Willis joined the Santee department in May, Chief Ed Barnett said. He worked three shifts a week and was working toward a full-time job. He got his national certification as a first-class firefighter last week.

“His dream was becoming a career firefighter, and he was on the path to achieve that dream,” Barnett said.

His colleagues are grieving the loss, he said.

“Richard Willis was a people person,” Barnett said. “Everybody loved him.”

Willis was driving a pickup truck south on Ann Street when he tried to cross the tracks about 5 p.m. Sunday. The crossing has several warning signs but no lights or mechanical arms.

A train traveling west hit him on the driver’s side, knocking the truck about 100 yards down the track. Willis died at the scene.

The Norfolk Southern train was going 44 mph at the crossing, and the conductor stopped after hitting the truck, St. George Police Chief Anthony Britt said.

Willis, an Army Veteran, leaves behind a wife, two daughters and a stepson. He will be buried Thursday with firefighter honors. Bryant Funeral Home is handling arrangements.

Christina Elmore contributed to this report. Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553 or