Editorial: What really happened at Williams Junction?

By Noel T. Braymer

I think everyone was shocked at news reports that an Amtrak crew left a diabetic man stranded in the middle of an Arizona forest near the Grand Canyon.

News reports like this said “PHOENIX–A 65-year-old St. Louis man is missing after Amtrak personnel, mistaking his diabetic shock for drunk and disorderly behavior, kicked him off a train in the middle of a national forest according to police in Williams, Arizona.” This would be terrible if this is what happened. We may never know exactly what happened. But the media as often happens today did a sensational, superficial and factually inaccurate hack job.

What we do know is Mr. Roosevelt Sims, 65 of St. Louis was riding the Southwest Chief on June 24th on his way to Los Angeles to visit some of his adult children. According to a report in the St. Louis Post Dispatch of June 29th, Mr. Sims was only diagnosed as having diabetes on June 22nd the day before he started his train trip. Mr. Sims’ doctor did not prescribe any medication, but advised him to lower his blood sugar by changes in his diet. For reasons we can’t be sure of Mr. Sims was acting oddly on the night of June 24th on the Southwest Chief. It really doesn’t matter if Mr. Sims was drunk or suffering from a medical condition. The train crew was in no position to deal with Mr. Sims.

Amtrak’s policy is for the train crew to contact the nearest legal authoriy, stop the train and wait for the authorities to come and deal with the problem at hand. This is what the crew of the Southwest Chief did on June 24th. If Mr. Sims was drunk, clearly this was an issue for the police. But if he had a medical condition the authorities were in the best position to get immediate medical help. The nearest town when this was happening was Williams, Arizona. Why didn’t the train stop in Williams? The train didn’t stop in Williams  because Williams is not on the BNSF Mainline. The police may consider Williams Junction in the middle of a forest, but it is only 5 miles from the town of Williams. The Williams Police have admitted they have picked up people before at Williams Junction for Amtrak.

It is true that diabetic shock is often mistaken for intoxication. The person’s breathe in diabetic shock even smells like alcohol. Diabetic shock is dangerous and can lead to coma and death. Diabetes is a condition where the body’s blood sugar levels are often higher than what is healthy. For most people diabetes comes about because of a diet that raises blood sugar levels. A diet high in carbohydrates, particularly sugar and starch (i.e. junk food) can overwhelm the body’s blood sugar levels. Insulin is used by the body to lower and control blood sugar. However for many diabetics, years of elevated blood sugar levels seems to overwhelm the bodies ability to control blood sugar. In addition to carbohydrates, smoking tobacco, the consumption of alcohol and lack of exercise also raise blood sugar levels and can contribute to the development of diabetes.

What is interesting about diabetic shock is that it is a form of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Why is that? A person with severe diabetes is often prescribed insulin, which lowers blood sugar levels.When taking insulin it is important to eat something soon afterwards to prevent blood sugar levels going to low causing hypoglycemia. This is why diabetics often carry glucose pills in case injections of insulin cause their blood sugar levels to go too low. It seems unlikely that Mr. Sims who was not on insulin would develop hypoglycemia.

What is known is that Mr. Sims was at Williams Junction, as was the train when the police arrived.Somehow, and the police have failed to explain how or why Mr. Sims was able to run away from the police and run into the woods. While the police were busy giving statements to the press and blaming Amtrak for this incident, they seemed unable to find this 65 year old man. Mr. Sims was found alive 4 days latter only two miles miles from Williams Junction by a sheriff deputy. Whatever caused Mr. Sims’ odd behavior on June 24th, most likely cleared up by the time he was found. Whatever was the cause, it is clear from the facts as known that the train crew followed Amtrak policy and did nothing wrong. There is nothing to suggest that Amtrak or the train crews could have done anything different than what they did. 

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