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Tuesday, June 26, 2007   


Miss Minden dies in train wreck

The young pageant queen from Minden's wish was to give life should hers end prematurely.

Hannah McFarland, 19, the reigning Miss Minden, wanted to donate her organs to help others. Her mom, Kim McFarland, said Monday that she upheld Hannah's wishes after learning about Hannah's death, which occurred Monday morning.

"That way, something good will come of this," the mother said.

McFarland died Monday in Ruston. She was thrown from a 2002 Mitsubishi Eclipse driven by 18-year-old Bossier City native Rachel Cockrell after the vehicle struck the side of a Kansas City Southern train on Maple Street, according to a Ruston Police report.

After the collision, which occurred at about 6:30 a.m., McFarland was taken by ambulance to North Louisiana Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead after arrival.

Cockrell was also taken to the medical center, where she was treated for numerous non-life-threatening injuries.

Cockrell was probably taking Hannah back to her waitress job at Mom's Diner in Minden. Hannah was supposed to be at work at 7 a.m. Monday and had left her car in the restaurant parking lot overnight.

"We all expected her to walk in here and say, 'I'm sorry I overslept'," said Carolyn Gates, who owns the diner with her husband, Jerry. "It's been a hard day. We're grieving."

The railroad crossing is marked by flashing lights and signs but not by crossing arms. Three other collisions have occurred at the crossing since 1999. Two in 2006 resulted in injuries, according to an accident history report by the Federal Railroad Authority Office of Safety.

Cockrell told police that she didn't see any warning lights and heard no horn from the train before the collision.

The driver of the train, Torrish Pearson of Gibsland, told officers that he could see active crossing lights when he approached the crossing and that he blew the train's warning whistle.

Gates and workers at Mom's Diner learned about the accident from a casual comment made by a radio announcer during a routine call to the restaurant Monday morning.

"I called her my baby," said Patty Webb, a cook at Mom's Diner. "She was such a sweet, respectful young lady. She had a lot of potential, a lot of goals set in her head."

Hannah, the middle child of three, volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and the yearly fundraiser for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. She was a standout softball player in high school and even tried out boxing. She retired from that sport after winning her first and only match.

Miss Louisiana Organization Executive Director Dewana Little said McFarland's first year competing at Miss Louisiana was notable.

"She was a bright spot," Little said. "We were looking forward to having her back next year."

McFarland, who was planning to attend Louisiana Tech University this fall, told Little after the pageant that she'd had fun, but the experience she'd gained and friends she'd made were worth more.

"She was a happy, excited young woman," Little said. "It was two weeks ago that she was introducing herself at orientation for Miss Louisiana."

Miss Louisiana 2006 Jamie Wilson, who shares McFarland's hometown, said she emceed the Miss Minden pageant McFarland won this year.

"It's just very shocking at this point for everyone," Wilson said Monday. "It's difficult for me, all of the contestants and the Miss Louisiana board."

Dance instructor Marie Wise, who worked with both McFarland and Wilson, called Monday's wreck a tragedy.

"Hannah was one of these girls who works extremely hard," Wise said. Holding down a job to fund her costume and dance instruction, pursuing nursing and honing her talent for Miss Louisiana stretched McFarland thin, Wise said.

"She was just nonstop trying to get ready" for the competition this month, Wise said.

Darris Waren, vice president of the Miss Louisiana Organization, called McFarland a "true pleasure" to work with.

"She will truly be missed by our organization," Waren said. "Our prayers go out to Hannah's family during this difficult time."

Wise said McFarland was chasing the title because it would help her further her education.

It's unknown if McFarland or Cockrell were wearing seat belts at the time of the wreck, and the incident remained under investigation by the Ruston Police Department.

McFarland graduated from Minden High School in 2006.

She had completed a year at Bossier Parish Community College and was expected to attend Louisiana Tech University this fall and major in nursing.

Funeral arrangements were pending Monday.

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I do not doubt that the driver had significant fault in this tragedy, but then again, I was that age once, and I was not and still am not a perfect driver. It would be another thing if the driver was drunk or driving recklessly, but it appears it was a mistake, and we all make them. Just in my case, my mistakes have not ended in such tragedy. My prayers go out to all of them.

This should be a message to us to be very respectful of train crossings, and trains in general.

Posted by: superman on Wed Jun 27, 2007 5:06 pm

What poor comments! Apparently none of these commenters have considered what Rachel and the entire Cockrell family must be feeling right now. If the individuals writing these negative comments ever once stopped & considered themself in this very situation, they would certainly be so sympathetic to everyone involved to keep these types of comments to themselves. How do you, yenko & others, think your comments affect the driver, Rachel, and her family? I know this family & Rachel. This is a life altering event for them, as well as the McFarland family. Rachel is a wonderful person who is so kind & sincere, as I am sure Hannah must have been. I am so disappointed that people who do not know Rachel are so quick to judge. Considering the tragedy, don't you think Rachel has enough to deal with the rest of her life, without having to deal with judgment passed by people who apparently have nothing better to do than comment negatively from "inside the box". I hope the negative commenters will truly consider Rachel's, the Cockrell & McFarland families feelings & try to understand what they must be going through, regardless of why or how it happened. If they truly stop & consider how their comments affect those involved, they will post their sincere apologies in a timely manner.

Posted by: secweld on Wed Jun 27, 2007 3:36 pm

I still would like to know if the driver was talking on her cell phone when the accident occurred.

Posted by: yenko on Tue Jun 26, 2007 7:22 pm

The driver ran into the train - the train did not come up to the crossing and hit the SUV as it was crossing - the engineer said the crossing lights were flashing and he was blowing his horn when he went through - he did not say he ran into the side of an SUV as he approached the crossing.

The driver drove straight into a moving freight train. I cross here several times a week. It is well marked, the tracks are bumpy, so you need to slow down so you don't ruin your car. How do you miss a freight train that is crossing the street in front of you?

Because you are driving without paying attention to what you are doing. Plain and simple.

I'm sorry the girl died in this, but I'm really sorry for the engineer who did nothing wrong, but will probably spend many sleepless nights wondering why someone would plow into the side of a freight train.

Posted by: truxillox on Tue Jun 26, 2007 5:07 pm

"....didn't see any warning lights and heard no horn....". Well that's obvious.

Posted by: XLOCAL on Tue Jun 26, 2007 2:58 pm

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Originally published June 26, 2007

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Terrance Armstard/The News-Star

Miss Minden, Hannah McFarland, competes in talent during the Miss Louisiana 2007 Pageant at the Monroe Civic Center on June 16.


The railroad crossing on Maple Street has a history of collisions associated with it:

  • June 13, 2006 One injury

  • Dec. 1, 2006 One injury

  • Aug. 16, 1999 No injuries

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