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Grieving Town Buries Bus Crash Victim

October 28, 1995

FOX RIVER GROVE, Ill. (AP) _ Dazed teen-agers wearing team jackets hugged and wept under a gray sky Friday as they buried the first of seven students killed when a commuter train smashed into their school bus.

``Michael Hoffman had friends who are 2 years old, and he had friends who are 82,″ Rabbi David Kalendar told the 400 mourners. ``Only the end was tragic. Michael’s life was one of laughter and one of love. He just didn’t have enough time.″

At the rail crossing where 14-year-old Michael and six other high school students died when a commuter train barreled into their bus on Wednesday, a hand-lettered sign was taped to a traffic pole: ``Seven angels crossing.″

Nearby, teen-agers huddled under blankets and tried to make sense of their loss.

``I wake up when I hear the trains at night,″ 15-year-old Zach Metz said, tears welling in his eyes. ``It’s just hard.″

Other funerals were planned for the weekend. Five Cary-Grove High School students remained in hospitals, one in critical condition.

The Chicago-bound train slammed into the rear of the students’ bus, which was stopped at a traffic light just past the crossing.

The driver, a substitute unfamiliar with the route, told federal investigators that she neither saw nor heard the train bearing down on the bus. If students were indeed yelling warnings, Patricia Catencamp said, they were lost in the normal clamor of 35 teen-agers.

Investigators are trying to determine why the bus sat at the traffic light with about 3 1/2 feet of its rear in the path of the train that swept through at up to 60 mph.

They are focusing on a traffic signal system that should have automatically switched a red light to green as the train approached, allowing the bus to proceed.

Around the suburban Chicago community, blue and white ribbons _ the school colors _ ringed trees and lampposts and businesses posted signs saying, ``Pray for the families″ and ``You will forever be remembered in our hearts.″

At the Fox River Grove Fire Department, a half block from the crossing, volunteer firefighter Paula Gallas said the pain has drawn the close community closer.

``You have new friends forever,″ said Gallas, who helped evacuate the injured, then turned to comfort the relatives of the dead. ``Everyone in town is out doing something for the families.″

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