December 24, 1902 SF Examiner 1

On December 23, 1902 at 4:45 PM, an eastbound freight train collided with a westbound passenger train near the Southern Pacific's East Oakland station at the foot of 13th Avenue. Fortunately the freight train had just started up from a side track, and the passenger train was slowing on the main track. Both engines were smashed, along with a freight car, but there was only one serious injury, to Maurice Shean, the engineer of the passenger train. People's nerves were a bit raw, because 26 people had died just days before in a train collision near Byron, California.

Both were Southern Pacific trains. The passenger train was carrying more than 200 passengers and had come from Sacramento, via Stockton, Tracy, Livermore and Niles. It was due at East Oakland at 3:30 PM, but was running over an hour late (which as the newspapers pointed out, was not unusual). The heavy freight train had been sitting on a siding for some time. When it was ready, the conductor gave the signal and the engineer started the train forward. The freight had just started onto the main track when the engineer saw the approaching passenger train. He threw the train into reverse, put on the brakes and he and the fireman jumped. Maurice Shean saw the freight ahead and did likewise. The fireman of the passenger train, Thomas Gilmartin, tried to jump, but his clothing caught on some machinery. The trains crashed together, but because both trains were slowed, it ended up that Shean was the only one injured.

Shean had a serious scalp wound, a compound fracture of the right leg, and complained of back pains. The railroad surgeon, Dr. J.P. Dunn, gave him opiates and forbid visitors except his wife. 2 Shean was moved to the Southern Pacific Railroad Hospital at 14th and Mission in San Francisco. After a week or so, doctors decided they had to amputate his foot. 3 Unfortunately, Shean didn't survive, and succumbed on January 13, 1903. The funeral was held at the family home, 1240 Adeline Street, followed by a requiem mass at the Church of the Immaculate Conception. Shean was buried in St. Mary's Cemetery. 4

People Involved

Maurice Shean, lower left 1

  • Maurice Shean - engineer of the passenger train
  • Thomas Gilmartin - fireman of the passenger train
  • Cornelius Roach - conductor of the passenger train
  • H. Wilkson - baggageman on the passenger train
  • W.C. Busse - mail clerk on the passenger train
  • William Adams - mail clerk on the passenger train
  • Thomas Brasher - switchman at East Oakland, a former engineer who had lost the use of his legs in a railroad accident
  • Thomas E. Dixon - engineer of the freight train
  • Fred Smith - fireman of the freight train
  • Edward Hahnlein (Haehnlen?) - conductor of the freight train

Hahnlein readily admitted it was his responsibility to check that the Sacramento train had passed 1st and Broadway before proceeding. He thought the train had passed, but because it was over an hour late, he was looking at the wrong record. Ironically, it was the third train wreck that Hahnlein had been involved with in the past month. He was in a wreck in Benicia on Thanksgiving in which two men were killed, and he had helped clear away the dead from the terrible crash near Byron. 5 A coroner's jury agreed, and the late Maurice Shean was cleared of any wrongdoing. Dixon was exonerated in any blame for the crash, but had committed a technical violation of the rules. SP fired both Hahnlein and Dixon. 6

Links and References

  1. Southern Pacific Carelessness Imperils the Lives of Two Hundred Passengers San Francisco Examiner December 24, 1902
  2. Wife of the Engineer Who Was Badly Hurt Defends Her Husband San Francisco Examiner December 24, 1902
  3. Will Amputate Engineer's Foot San Francisco Examiner January 3, 1903
  4. death notice San Francisco Examiner January 14, 1903
  5. Disastrous Collision at Brooklyn Station Oakland Tribune December 24, 1902
  6. Blames Conductor, Exonerates the Engineer San Francisco Examiner February 5, 1903