Pine Ridge Middle School staff responds to plight of train wreck victims

Smith and Basile.

Lexington District Two’s Pine Ridge Middle School became an unexpected relief center to passengers who were riding on the Amtrak train that crashed early Sunday morning.

PRMS staff members were notified shortly after their school was chosen to be utilized for the incident, and a few people responded so quickly to the call, they arrived even before the Red Cross.

PRMS Bookkeeper Samantha Smith said as soon as she got the message, she and her husband immediately “threw on some clothes” and got to the school by 5:15 a.m. “We didn’t even have to talk about it, we just went right away,” said Smith.

Once she and her husband got there, she described the scene as very quiet. “Everyone was just quiet, they had blankets on and talking very low, if at all. Seemed like people were just staying in their own little space, a lot of people seemed in shock,” she said. Smith said she did not know what to expect, but said she became a little emotional at one point. “What really got me was when they were bringing luggage in, and I saw a stroller but no baby was in it,” she said. “But thankfully we found out later that the baby was okay.”

Smith and other staff members got coffee and tea for the victims and said they just wanted to do whatever they could to help. When the Red Cross arrived around 7 a.m., she recalls the day moving as smoothly as a “fine oiled machine.”

Smith reiterated that they had obviously never experienced anything like this before, but she felt that it was the right school to house these people in need. “We’re a big family here, and we believe in always helping one more child, person, or citizen,” Smith said. “We are a loving school, and we are privileged that they chose us, however they decided that.”

Principal David Basile was also at the school most of the day with the victims, and said he was just glad their school could be used to help.

“When you’re in a crisis situation, you need support from the community, so it’s great the school was available and that I have staff members who live close enough who could open the building ” he said.

Now that the train accident has received national, and even international, attention, Basile said he is amazed that his school was so unexpectedly directly involved in the incident.

“It’s a surreal experience once you’re in the midst of it. It’s sometimes just difficult to comprehend,” Basile said. “Once you’re in there and you hear these folks and see the expressions on their faces and look in their eyes, it’s a whole different experience.” He is proud of his staff and everyone who was at PRMS Sunday helping with anything that was needed. All passengers have now been transported from the school.