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Fisherman rescued after falling off Brattleboro bridge to avoid Amtrak train

BRATTLEBORO—An unidentified fisherman was rescued on June 2 after falling off a railroad bridge to avoid a fast-moving Amtrak train.

Local police and firefighters were called to the elevated tracks that span over the confluence of the Connecticut and West rivers shortly after 1 p.m. after the southbound Vermonter blew its whistle and tried to brake, they reported.

“I heard the horn a lot longer than usual,” said Spencer Knickerbocker, who was working nearby at his family’s Vermont Canoe Touring Center, “so I ran over and saw him falling into the water.”

As the train stopped, Knickerbocker grabbed a life preserver, swam to the man and brought him to shore.

“He was in bad shape — really struggling and going under — but he was conscious and able to communicate,” Knickerbocker said. “He said he was up there fishing.”

As train conductors removed a pole from the bridge, Brattleboro firefighters arrived to place a cervical collar on the man and move him onto a backboard for transport by local Rescue Inc. workers to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, Fire Captain Eric Poulin said.

A helicopter from New Hampshire’s Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center flew to the area in response to the accident. Authorities released no other details about the man’s care or condition.

Amtrak didn’t issue a press release about the incident and only reported that “our train did not strike the individual trespassing” on the private rail trestle, according to its spokesperson Jason Abrams.

The daily Vermonter had departed St. Albans at 9:15 a.m. on its way to Washington, D.C. The train, which was already 19 minutes late, arrived at its next stop 40 minutes behind, according to an Amtrak schedule.

The June 2 incident wasn’t the first on the bridge. In November 2015, a 26-year-old Brattleboro man was killed and a companion was injured in the same scenario.

Archer Mayor, a nationally known mystery writer from nearby Newfane, monitored the scene at that time in his second job as an investigator for the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Readers of his Joe Gunther series know the author is familiar with the rusting bridge that’s featured in his 2009 novel, The Price of Malice.

“Neither one of them saw or heard the train,” Mayor wrote in that book. “It was on them … like a mechanical nightmare, in the proverbial blink of an eye. All noise and blur and heart-stopping surprise.”

On Thursday, Knickerbocker spoke with Amtrak authorities, then returned to his usually tranquil duties on the water.

“There have been lots of incidents here where that same thing happened,” Knickerbocker said. “People are on the bridge all summer jumping off. There are not enough warning signs.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #667 (Wednesday, June 8, 2022). This story appeared on page A7.

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