On the morning of August 7, 1981, at approximately 5:07 a.m., a C & O freight train derailed in the city of Bridgman, Michigan. 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 the involved officers was Tpr. Allan P. Peterson, a thirteen 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 one-hundred 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 August 29, 1981, at approximately 8:15 a.m., Trooper Peterson, 37 years of age, died of a massive heart attack, following a prolonged and severe coughing spasm. It was determined, at a later date, that the medical complications contributing to his death were a direct result of the exposure to the toxic plume discharged from the derailed freight train.
Trooper Peterson was the 34th MSP officer to die in the line of duty.