Five Die as Commuter Train Slams Into School Bus
Oct. 25, 1995
FOX RIVER GROVE, Ill. (AP) _ A commuter train ripped apart a school bus stopped on the tracks Wednesday as youngsters in the back rushed forward in terror at the sight of 620 tons of steel bearing down on them. Five students were killed and about 30 injured.
Some witnesses said the bus was trying to cross the tracks about 7:20 a.m. when it got caught at a red light behind a car and couldn't make it all the way across. But others said there was no car ahead and the driver could have moved forward.
``You could see the terror in their eyes,'' witness Coreen Bachinsky said. ``You could hear the metal, the glass flying, the screams. It was very, very scary.''
The bus was taking the youngsters to 1,400-student Cary-Grove High School in Cary. The Chicago-bound express train was traveling between 50 and 60 mph and sheared the body of the bus off the chassis, spinning it around 180 degrees.
``From then on out, all you heard was screaming,'' said Andrea Arens, 19, who was waiting for another train in this town 37 miles northwest of Chicago.
Four people were pronounced dead at the scene, and one died at a hospital. At least seven of the injured were in critical condition.
Taben Johanson, a 15-year-old who was sitting in his usual third-row seat on the bus, said the gate came down on the back of the bus and there was a car in front. Then he looked up and saw the train bearing down on them.
``I basically figured it out when all the kids were running forward, screaming,'' he said.
Jim Homola, a carpenter driving his children to school, said he had been stopped behind the bus and saw the approaching train. ``We started screaming, `Go! Go!''' he said. ``It was over in a matter of seconds.''
Homola said bus driver ``was in hysterics'' afterward.
The driver, whose identity was not released, was taken to a hospital for evaluation.
She was filling in for the regular driver on the route, students said. The secretary of state's office said the 54-year-old woman had been licensed to drive a school bus since 1987 and had a flawless driving record.
Hours after the accident, the body of the bus lay about 10 feet from the wheels and chassis, the steering wheel jutting in the air. Red plastic sheets were draped over some of the wreckage.
A nurse who helped out at the scene, Helen Getchell, said she suctioned out the throat of one injured boy with a turkey baster obtained from a convenience store nearby.
``He died in my arms,'' she said, adding that she hoped the boy's mother would know ``he didn't die by himself.''
``There were kids laying on the ground on the driver's side of the bus,'' said another witness, James Orlandino. ``It looked like they had been thrown out.''
School officials could not say exactly how many people were aboard the bus.
The crossing was guarded by a gate, bells, flashing lights and signs, but there was little space between the stoplight and the tracks, said Chris Knapton, a spokesman for Metra, the agency that operates Chicago's suburban commuter trains.
``It's the kind of a crossing that railroaders hate,'' he said.
Mark Davis, a spokesman for Union-Pacific, which employs the train crew, said the engineer tried desperately to stop the train. ``He slowed down. Then he applied the emergency brake, then he got on the horn,'' Davis said.
Cathy Monroe, spokeswoman for Secretary of State George Ryan, said the school district had a fine safety record. ``They've set very high standards for themselves and their drivers,'' Monroe said.
She said it was the first fatal school bus accident in Illinois since 1989.
Fox River Grove is a bedroom community 40 miles northwest of Chicago in a fast-growing commuter corridor at the edge of the city's suburban sprawl.
In the afternoon, cars lined up out of the parking lot and onto a nearby highway as people showed up to donate blood at Good Shepherd Hospital in nearby Barrington, where some victims were taken.
Jason Kedrok, 16, was wearing a hospital bracelet and had bruises on his face and arm when he showed up at the accident scene in the afternoon to look at the wreck he had survived.
``Just looking at it now, I can't believe I got out of it,'' he said.