BRIDGMAN — A memorial dedication will be held at 8:12 a.m. Aug. 29 at the Lake Street railroad tracks in Bridgman, to honor Michigan State Police Trooper Allan Peterson.

Peterson died Aug. 29, 1981, at age 37, from medical complications from working at the site of a train derailment in Bridgman. The public is invited.

In a news release announcing the event, Michigan State Police Niles Post stated “(we) would like to thank the Bridgman City Council, Carson Wood Specialties, The Times of Northwest Indiana, family and co-workers for their support and donations to memorialize (Peterson’s) sacrifice to the community and the state of Michigan.” A plaque will be dedicated during the memorial.

According to state police, it was 5:07 a.m. on Aug. 7, 1981, when a C & O freight train derailed in the city of Bridgman. The train, comprised of 80 cars, pulled by two locomotives and trailed by a caboose, lost 14 of its cars in the derailment. One of the cars, a tanker with the number ACFX92961 stenciled on its side, flipped over and rested on its top. Due to a ruptured standpipe, a large white plume of toxic gas began to escape from this tanker.

Various police agencies arrived at the scene to assist with the derailment, led by troopers from Benton Harbor, Paw Paw and the New Buffalo Team. Among those involved was Trooper Peterson, a 13-year veteran, who had served at Bay City, Ithaca, Brighton and Paw Paw before being transferred to the New Buffalo Team.

Trooper Peterson was assigned to the inner perimeter of the scene, approximately 100 yards from the wreckage. His primary responsibilities included keeping motorists, media and curious onlookers away from the overturned tanker which continued to spew toxic gas.

Investigation of the cargo indicated the upside-down car was loaded with fluosulfonic (fluorosulfonic) acid, an odorless, fuming liquid that is acidic, poisonous and highly corrosive to metals and tissue. Short contacts with small quantities of this acid or its fumes can cause severe, painful burns. Trooper Peterson, as did many of the assigned officers, spent his entire shift working in close proximity to the caustic white plume.

On Aug. 29, 1981, Peterson awoke in his Three Oaks home having a severe coughing spasm, according to state police. He was rushed to St. Anthony’s Hospital in Michigan City, Ind., and was pronounced dead at 8:12 a.m. An autopsy determined that he died from heart failure due to thickening and hardening of the arteries. 

At the time, it was thought that he died from natural causes. But, according to state police, years later officials revealed that the medical complications of his death were the direct result of exposure to the toxic gases discharged from the derailed freight train.