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Service Oct. 12 for Benham sisters

[ 0 ] October 3, 2013 |

Services for Hannah and Hailey Benham will be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 12 at Bartlesville First Wesleyan Church, 1776 Silverlake Road. Arrangements are being handled by Walker, Brown Funeral Home.

An account has been set up at Bank of the Lakes to benefit the family. Donations can be made to the “Natalie Benham Support Trust.” An account has also been set up at any Arvest Bank location. Donations can be made to the “Hailey and Hannah Benham Memorial Fund.”

A benefit spaghetti dinner will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 11 before the football game at the school cafeteria.

 Area grieves over child deaths in train crash

By JOHN M. WYLIE II and CHRIS EDENS, Leader writers

The Oologah-Talala community was in mourning after two elementary students were killed and their mother, a school employee, was seriously injured in an SUV-train wreck Monday afternoon.

Superintendent Rob Armstrong said children and school employees continued to work on classroom activities Tuesday but were shocked by the tragedy.

Counselors and virtually every youth pastor in the area were available Tuesday for those who needed emotional comfort, he added.

Natalie M. Benham, 28, of Nowata County, had started her second year as a member of the cafeteria staff in August.

Her girls, 9-year-old Hailey Marie Benham and 6-year-old Hannah Daniel Benham, were popular elementary students.

Both girls died at the scene of the accident, the Watova (Nowata County Road 280) Union Pacific Railroad crossing.

“They just loved it here,” Armstrong said. “They had a lot of friends, were very active and were just wonderful kids.”

Their mother was taken by Life Flight to St.  John Medical Center in Tulsa where she was admitted in stable condition with leg and trunk internal injuries, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol said.

Armstrong said she was conscious Tuesday but was expected to be in the hospital for several days. School staff planned to visit her Tuesday afternoon.

The accident occurred about 3:15 p.m. Troopers said Benham’s 2008 Ford failed to yield at the railroad crossing and was struck by a south-bound Union Pacific train.

School copes

Armstrong said elementary students were doing surprisingly well:

“Remarkably our kids are doing very well. But when the train goes by and it blasts the horn, I think that is scaring them more than anything.”

Lower elementary principal Crysti York said faculty members were shocked at the tragic news Tuesday morning. She said parents and former teachers came to the school and provided lunch for her staff. Teachers and counselors were ready to offer students any support or counseling they needed.

“The community is rallying around us and the parents have been very supportive. We’ve also started discussions with OPT about holding a benefit to help the family with expenses,”Yorksaid.

Child Nutrition Director Beverly Kellenberger and some of her cafeteria staff went to the hospital Tuesday afternoon to visit Benham and offer their support.

Kellenberger said Benham’s life revolved around her children.

“She’s such a sweet person and she’s a wonderful worker. She’s funny and full of life and we’re heartbroken for her loss,” Kellenberger said. “Her co-workers consider her family and we’re here for her and anything she needs. We wish her a speedy recovery.”

An account has been set up at Bank of the Lakes to benefit the family. Donations can be made to the “Natalie Benham Support Trust.” An account has also been set up at any Arvest Bank location. Donations can be made to the “Hailey and Hannah Benham Memorial Fund.”

Some local businesses have already made contributions and donors can remain anonymous.

How it happened

All the occupants of the SUV were wearing seatbelts. Troopers listed the cause of the accident as failure to yield at the railroad crossing.

Elizabeth Hutchinson, a spokeswoman for Union Pacific in Omaha, said the crash involved a southbound train traveling from Coffeyville to what the railroad calls the Pratt junction in Oklahoma, located between Tiawah and Inola.

“It was a ‘power move,’ so the train was comprised of two locomotives and no rail cars. The crossing was equipped with crossbucks and yield signs.

“The train crew (identified by the OHP as conductor Corey Varnold, 30, of Carl Junction, Mo., and engineer Matthew Jones, 53, of Parsons, Kan.,) was uninjured and has been offered peer-to-peer counseling support.

“In the wake of this awful tragedy, it’s so important to us that people remember to stay vigilant around railroad tracks by adhering to railroad crossing laws and not trespassing on railroad property,” Hutchinson said.
She said the only other UP train-vehicle incident on record with the Federal Railroad Administration at this crossing occurred in January 1994.

Troopers from the Craig, Mayes, Nowata, and Washington County detachments investigated the wreck.

They included Trooper Joe Green assisted by Trooper Derek Humphrey, Lt. Tim Gibson, Trooper Jerrod Martin and Trooper Lance Ford.

The first news of the accident started to filter into the Oologah area late Monday afternoon.

Residents were still urgently trying to find information on the crash when the OHP report was released shortly before 10 p.m. The story on the Leader’s Facebook page was read over 6,300 times and generated 35 comments.

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