Michigan State Police
New Buffalo Post
August 29, 1981
At 5:07AM on August 7, 1981, a C&O freight train derailed in downtown Bridgman. One of the responding officers was Trooper Allan Peterson, who was assigned to the inner perimeter of the scene, approximately 100 yards from the wreckage. He was responsible for keeping passing motorists, media, and curious onlookers away from the overturned tanker, which spewed toxic gas. With further investigation of the cargo through numbers stenciled on the side, it was determined that the gas was fluorosulfonic acid, an odorless, and fuming liquid that is acidic, poisonous and highly corrosive to metals and tissue. Even short contacts with this acid can cause severe and painful burns. Trooper Peterson spent his entire shift in close proximity to the gas, as well as many other officers. At the time, it was thought that the gas was toxic, but not lethal.
On August 29, 1981, Trooper Peterson awoke in his Three Oaks home having a severe coughing spasm. He was rushed to St. Anthony's Hospital in nearby Michigan City, Indiana, but he passed away before arriving. He was pronounced dead at 8:12AM. An autopsy was performed and it was 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 and wasn't until years later when it was revealed that the medical complications of his death were a direct result of the exposure to the toxic gases discharged from the derailed freight train. This tragic incident was the catalyst for the creation of the Berrien County Hazardous Materials Team.
Allan Peterson was born on October 19, 1943 in Albion, Michigan. He was a Coast Guard veteran and as a trooper served at the Paw Paw Post from April of 1972 until his transfer to the New Buffalo Post. His body was cremated.