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Onlookers Cry During Eerie Recreation of Tragic Crash

October 29, 1995

FOX RIVER GROVE, Ill. (AP) _ Clanging warning bells and the deep bellow of a train whistle pierced the early morning calm Sunday when federal investigators recreated last week’s collision between a commuter train and a school bus.

Seven teen-agers were killed and more than two dozen others were injured Wednesday when the train struck the rear of the school bus, tearing the yellow cabin from the chassis.

With an identical bus idling in the same intersection and the actual train involved the accident barreling down the tracks, 20 investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board measured several factors that led to the crash.

The tests clearly showed there was too little room for the bus between the tracks behind it and a stoplight at a highway in front of it. In two re-enactments without the bus, the train could not stop without completely passing through the intersection, even with the emergency brakes applied.

The spectacle brought about 40 onlookers to the scene, where letters, balloons and stuffed animals have been left in memory of those killed. Some cried at the sight of the train positioned just 3 feet from the bus _ a freeze frame of the moment just before the crash.

``I’m trying to imagine how the children felt in there,″ said Gloria Crossley of Cary, the town that neighbors Fox River Grove and shares Cary-Grove high school, where the teen-agers were heading. ``It’s eerie. It’s sad.″

Visitations for three of the teen-agers who were killed were held Sunday, with funerals scheduled for Monday. A seventh teen-ager will be buried Tuesday.

Using evidence such as skid marks and gouges in the road left by the accident, investigators placed a bus where the real bus stood before the accident. Video cameras recorded what the bus driver and train engineer would have seen and heard as the train approached.

Then, the bus was moved forward far enough to clear the tracks and the width of the train. That put it over the crosswalk and about six feet into the highway’s right traffic lane.

Investigators measured how far the train traveled after the emergency brakes were applied when the train was cruising at more than 60 mph.

In the first test, the train, with a large dent showing where it struck the bus, passed through the intersection and did not stop for about 40 more feet. In the second test, the train came to rest about 100 feet past the intersection, close to where it stopped after last week’s crash.

NTSB spokesman Bob Barlett refused to comment on the test results. ``We have to be very thorough, and that’s what we’re doing,″ he said.

Barlett said Sunday’s re-creations will be included in a final report on the accident, which should be issued in six to nine months. The NTSB, if necessary, can issue an emergency recommendation before the report is completed.

Ann Baker of Fox River Grove wore a blue and white ribbon on her jacket as she watched the re-enactment. She cried as she saw the train rumble through the intersection. Last Wednesday, Baker’s daughter, Katie, was seated in the middle of the bus before the collision. Katie escaped with minor injuries.

``I’m not sure why I’m here,″ Baker said. ``I just felt the need to be here. If anything good winds up coming out of this, I hope they can fix these railroad crossings and maybe save more children.″