When a CSX train rumbled past Nashville Gun and Knife in Belle Meade on April 3, manager Shellie Reed, a retired cop, knew something was wrong.
"We heard the train as it came by. It just went into emergency braking and the wheels were locked, and sparks flying and everything else," Shellie said.
But Reed never could have imagined the scene over a mile away. 49-year-old local musician Michael Johnson, who was also known in local music circles as Michael Johanson, was found lying dead in a field near the railroad crossing at Davidson Road and Harding Pike.
The average weight of a train is between 1500 and 6,000 tons. Michael Johanson, apparently unaware of the train barreling down on him, had no chance. His busted phone and earbuds were found near his body.
"These noise canceling earbuds... it's just like they go in and you can very much zone out. You don't hear nothing," said Chuck Fan, who was close friends with Michael Johanson for 24 years. Fan added, that he can't believe his best friend is gone.
Fan, who used to play bass guitar, unzipped a black guitar bag and pulled out his prized bass to show our camera crew.
"Fender Jazz Squire series. I was actually going to leave this for Michael, not thinking that something was ever going to happen to me. But in case it did, I was going to leave this for him, because this has got some great action on it. And if you heard him play he would have done her justice. I'll tell you right now. This thing right here, he loved it," Fan said.
Michael Johanson helped launch The Middle Tennessee Bass Off 4 years ago. The annual bass jam showcases some of the best bass players around. And proceeds from past events have gone to 'Adopt a Hero' to support veterans.
Chuck Fan and others say they're having a hard time coming to grips with Johanson's death. "Right now, at this moment, if I hear a train horn go off, it makes me cringe," Fan said.
Fan also cringes when he thinks about the reason he believes his best friend is no longer here.
"He was on his way home from work and his car broke down. And he was in an area where he didn't know where anything was. He was getting on the tracks trying to find somewhere where he could get his car fixed so he could get home," Fan said.
Belle Meade Police Chief Tim Eads said it's the first time he can remember anyone being struck and killed by a train in his city. And he has a warning for anyone driving or walking near train tracks.
"Assume a train is coming. They don't keep a schedule. They run year round. They don't take a holiday off. And if you think you know the train schedule, you may not," Eads said.
Friends say Michael Johanson, who was a new grandfather, was on the verge of great things. They say he was both a talented bass player and baker, who was eager to start his own cheesecake business.
"He loved his kids. He loved all his friends. The Bass Off was going strong. He was starting the cheesecake thing. He was getting all this stuff lined up. It was one of those situations where I never saw him as happy as he was," Chuck Fan said.
Michael's loved ones are planning a memorial tribute to honor him on April 14 at Shooters Sports Bar in Hermitage. Everyone is invited to attend the Sunday evening event.
News 4 also asked CSX to confirm whether the train's engineer sounded a horn before Michael Johnson was hit? They said they were unable to provide specific details, because the incident remains under investigation. CSX also issued a new statement.
“Public safety is a priority at CSX, and the company works closely with its employees, communities and industry partners like Tennessee Operation Lifesaver on education and awareness programs designed to end collisions, fatalities, and injuries at grade crossings and on railroad tracks. Pedestrians and motorists should stay alert, remain far away from railroad tracks and use caution at grade crossings. Walking on or near railroad property is extremely dangerous and illegal. Fatalities are tragic and CSX’s sympathies are with the victims’ family and friends. These incidents reinforce the need for extra caution around railroad tracks."