SATSUMA, Fla. – A 66-year-old driver whose SUV was hit by a train Sunday afternoon in Putnam County has owned a popular neighborhood bar for more than a decade, News4Jax has learned.
Gary Burch was flown to Shands Hospital in Gainesville after the accident and was listed in critical but stable condition.
The accident left Burch's SUV unrecognizable. People who know Burch said he was working at the bar and was running to the store to get change for a bartender when the accident happened. Burch was hosting a potluck dinner at Hermit's Cove Marina Beer Garden.
Burch was also a local real estate agent for Coldwell Banker for 30 years.
When people heard about the accident, they thought the worst.
"Frankly, everyone thought he had passed. Some of the bartenders were very upset," Deanne Zeitz said. "People were crying. People were very moved. He's been in this community a long time, so we were very shocked."
Burch was hit at a crossing along the only route to and from his home and the bar.
Friends said he's driven over the tracks for years.
"As many times as he's been over that railroad track, I still can't believe that that happened," Deborah Gray said. "I really can't. It's sad."
The Florida Highway Patrol said the accident was reported at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at the intersection of East Buffalo Bluff Road and Tyler Street. The train was en route from Miami to New York at the time of the accident.
Some witnesses said the crossing arms were not down when the accident happened, but FHP investigators said the arms were down at the railroad crossing, and the lights were activated on the crossing arms.
Amtrak said there were 246 passengers and crew on the train at the time of the accident. FHP originally said no one on board was injured, but has since said that one person was hospitalized for a minor neck injury and was released shortly afterward.
News4Jax obtained Burch's driving record from the state. He had one DUI charge in 1995.
Burch has owned his bar for years. It's a place that's popular with boaters, bikers and neighbors.
People are hoping that he recovers after the accident.
"This is my hideaway," Gray said. "I love the river. … This river means so much Gary. He'd be out here taking pictures every day."
Burch's bar was closed Monday. News4Jax was told that it would be open Tuesday.
Troopers continue to investigate the accident.