Sunday, February 8, 2015

Fox River Grove Illinois Bus/Train crash

Fox River Grove Illinois Bus-Train crash
October 25, 1995

Chesterfield County (Virginia) Fire Station 12, located in Ettrick, hard by both Petersburg and Colonial Heights in the county's southeast corner, has the distinction of being the oldest station in the county. (Why am I telling a fire department story from Virginia to kick off a post about a school bus accident in Illinois? Read on...) 

The old part of the building was built in 1938, hasn't housed fire apparatus for decades, and is now the home of the Chesterfield Fire Department Museum. A huge addition was built when the station was completely refurbished in the mid or late Eighties, which was actually the building's second remodeling. The first, in the late Fifties or early Sixties, added four bays and a kitchen, behind the original building, then the 1980s refurbishment added a second floor to those four bays as well as modernizing the rest of the station. One problem, though...they didn't make the apparatus bays any longer.

There's been a Truck company (Ladder truck) at Station 12 since the mid-60s, the most recent at this writing a big Pierce 103 foot rear mount, and the reason it's an 103 foot aerial rather than an 105 footer is because the aerial ladder, which overhangs the front of the cab, had to be shortened by two feet in order to both get the rig into it's bay and close the bay door. It is a tight fit between the rear of the rig and the rear of the bay, and drivers learn...very to judge where the rear of the rig is in reference to that back wall so they can back into the bay without inadvertently making it into a drive-through bay. 

Of course, CFD requires it's drivers to use spotters when a rig's backing, and they give the driver the traditional closed-fist 'stop' signal well before a course or two of bricks gets punched out, but it's still the driver's responsibility to know his rig, and where the corners are in relation to other objects when he's maneuvering. The point is, they are required to know their rig. Guessing is not an option. As in, if you're not sure whether you have clearance you either look your self or get someone to spot for you.

School bus drivers have a similar and even more critical requirement...they're driving a nearly 40 foot long vehicle with the approximate maneuverability of a cruise ship, loaded with the most precious cargo you can carry, on often narrow, crooked roads that offer up a cornucopia of tight clearances. They do this with the expectation that they complete their route without damaging their bus, or...and far far more importantly...injuring any of the passengers there-on, and 99.99% of the time, they do just that.

OF course they have a little federally mandated help. By 1995...twenty-three years after the Congers bus crash and eighteen years after the new DOT safety standards had been bus safety had advanced in leaps and bounds, and the great majority of what were known as 'Pre-DOT' buses had been sold to private owners (Many to be converted to campers), organizations such as churches to be used as activity buses, and even a few to fire departments to be converted to rigs such as command posts. Those that weren't sold moldered in junkyards, fields and behind municipal garages, slowly rusting away.

But the new buses, like their predecessors, were still anywhere between 35-40 feet long, and there were some places that they just would not fit. I have a feeling the very great majority of bus drivers knew...and know...exactly where such tight quarters are, and avoid them like the plague. One of the biggies, tight clearance-wise, is a very similar situation to CFD Truck 12's tight fit, except it doesn't involve a brick wall, it involves a railroad crossing, and trust me on this, every jurisdiction in the land has a few of them. 

In fact, as you read this you're probably picturing exactly what I'm talking about...those crossings where a side road crosses the tracks, then immediately 'T's into another road that parallels the tracks at an intersection controlled by either a stop sign or a stoplight. (I can think of two here in Chesterfield, within about three miles of where I'm typing this). There are a slew of these crossings that barely have room for a car on the hot side of the crossing, much less a bus. If the intersection's protected by a stop sign rather than a stop light, it's a good bet that the bus driver can't see approaching cross traffic from the 'safe' side of the crossing.

If it's a signal (Stop light) controlled intersection, it's more than possible for a bus to get trapped at a red light with the rear end of the bus overhanging the tracks, when a train's coming.

Again, most school bus drivers know exactly where such dangerous crossings are and strive to avoid them, getting the school district transportation department involved to actually change the route if necessary. If it's a crossing where the bus between the intersection and the crossing they know exactly where the front corner has to be so the rear corner is well clear of the tracks. And they will wait on the safe side until they have room on the hot side of the crossing, whether it's a stop sign or signal controlled intersection. Again, they know their routes and their rides...they're required to.

The problem occurs when a substitute driver who does not know the route or the bus has to take over...and it's made even worse when the highway department manages to make the situation even more dangerous.

Usually at signal controlled intersections that are hard by a signal protected crossing, the railroad crossing signals are interconnected with the stoplight, so if the crossing lights and gates are tripped the light will turn green for the road crossing the tracks, allowing traffic on the hot side of the crossing to clear the crossing before the train rolls through it. Traffic on the safe side stays put because of the crossing gates that the railroad crossing is hopefully equipped with as well as, sometimes, a second set of traffic lights on the safe side of the crossing. The same interconnect that changes the traffic signals at the intersection will preempt the traffic signals on the safe side of the crossing, causing them to stay red if the crossing lights, bells, and gates are tripped. If the interconnect works right, it's a well oiled machine. If the timing is off, it can cause headaches or worse. If the timing's off when a school bus driven by a substitute driver who isn't familiar with the bus she's driving, doesn't know the route and is running twenty minute's late approaches the crossing a few minutes ahead of a train...

We're going back to October 25th, 1995 and heading up to Chicagoland for this one, specifically to Fox River Grove, Illinois, home to about 4800 or so people and straddling the McHenry County/Lake County line 45 miles northwest of Chicago.

That 25th of October dawned clear, cold, and just a scosh breezy as parents in Fox River Grove and environs there-of coaxed their teenage children to something resembling wakefulness, plied them with breakfast, and sent them to bus stops to await the 'Yellow Monsters' that would take them to The Home of the Trojans...Cary-Grove High Fox River Grove. Most of the kids would make it to school that morning, but they'd have anything but a normal day.

Bus 103's driver called in sick late in the ball-game, and the transportation supervisor started hustling to get a driver to the bus so they could get that route's kids to school at some point before lunch time. She was having absolutely no success in finding a relief driver. The regular substitute driver had already been assigned a route and was, therefore, unavailable, so she snagged the division's Assistant Director and temporarily demoted her to substitute bus driver. So, as the kids on bus 103's route shivered in the morning's fall chill and wondered if the bus would ever get there, the Assistant Director... Patricia Catencamp...headed to the bus yard, pre-tripped the bus, then cranked it up, pulled out, and started the route. She was already between fifteen and twenty minutes late when she started.

A few of the kids went back to their houses and told their parents (If they hadn't left for work yet) that the bus was late, and that, as a result, they were as well, resulting in Mom or Dad grabbing keys, jacket, and shoes other than bedroom slippers, loading the kids in the car, and taking them to school. Others snagged rides with neighbors or friends. A couple of kids may have even decided that the non-appearance of their bus was a definite sign, and skipped school. These decisions would prove to be fateful and very fortunate.

One of the kids waiting at the bus' first stop was equally fortunate when bus 103 rolled up at about 6:55, (Again, twenty minutes late), because assistant director ne' substitute driver Catencamp  snagged him as he climbed aboard and asked him if he'd help her with the route as she didn't have a clue where she was going. He said 'sure', plopped down in the seat behind the driver, and started directing her along the route...he normally sat at the rear of the bus.

At about the same time Patricia Catencamp was pretripping bus 103, Engineer Ford Dotson was doing a brake and systems check on Metra train express train of the Chicago area Metra commuter railroad system that ferries thousands of commuters from Chicago's suburbs into The Windy City it sat idling in Crystal Lake, Illinois before heading out on the morning's first run.. The Metra trains are set up to be 'Double Enders', with a diesel locomotive on one end, and a 'cab car'...a passenger car with a fully equipped, if a bit cramped, control cab...on the other end. Heading into Chicago, the Metra trains run with the cab car on the head end.

A Metra train running with the cab car at the head end, just as Train 624 was when it hit Bus # 103. The cab car itself isn't powered,when the train's running with the Cab Car at the head end, it's being pushed by the diesel locomotive on the other end of the train .. A sophisticated system of cables and electronics allows the locomotive to be controlled remotely from the cab car.

Note the two windows...both equipped with wipers...above and on either side of the door on the end of the car. This is where the Engineer's cab is located, with, I believe, a control position on either side of the car. The train is normally driven from the right side position the train's running with the cab car at the head end. The cab car's also equipped with head lights, a pair of ditch lights (The two white lights mounted low on the end of the car, on either side of the door) and air horns...Look closely and you can also see the air horns, above the driver's window on the left side of the car. 

Train 624 weighed in at about 570 tons and stretched 650 feet as it  pulled out of Crystal Lake at 7AM, already fairly full. The train was a semi-express (My own term there), with only a couple of stops between Crystal Lake and Chicago. Fox River Grove was not one of them. The train rolled along at 40 MPH until it reached the first station south of Crystal Lake, then slowed to 20 MPH as it rolled through the station area. Once it cleared the station, with a green signal indicating clear track ahead, Dotson eased the throttle around it's quadrant until the train was eating up track at 70 MPH...the speed limit for that section of line.

Bus 103's route through Fox River Grove was a looping multiple square that crosses US 14...which splits Fox River Grove in half...and the Union Pacific tracks twice, once going south, on Lincoln, then again heading North on Algonquin Rd, which is a major local thoroughfare. When Catencamp swung the bus to the left, onto Algonquin, she was maybe halfway or a little better through the route.

The Union Pacific main line parallels US14 and crosses Algonquin at a signal protected grade crossing...Catencamp eased up to the crossing's stop line at a little before 7:10 AM and, as State law and School Board policy both mandated, stopped, opened the door and slid her window open. There was no sign of a either direction.

The stop light at US 14 was glowing red at keep in mind that she had never driven this route before, either in a bus or, as Assistant director of Transportation, while checking bus routes in her personal vehicle, so she had absolutely no clue how the traffic lights and crossing signals were timed. She closed the bus door, slid her window closed and eased across the her mind she needed to cross the tracks so the bus could trip the sensor that would change the lights, giving her a green. OF course there were also loops on the safe side of the crossing as well, but she didn't know that.

Train 624 was just under a mile away from the crossing at this point...and wouldn't be blowing it's horn as it approached the crossing. Fox River Grove had taken advantage of a DOT regulation that allowed communities to exempt themselves from the whistle-sounding requirements if all of their crossings were protected by signals and gates.

There was something else that Catencamp didn't realize as the bus sat at the crossing, and it was a biggie...her bus was too long to safely fit between the tracks and the stop line for the traffic signal. As she stopped for the light, the left rear corner of the bus was just about even with the nearest rail, and the eleven foot wide Metra train's cars extended just about three feet beyond the rails on either side of the track, putting three feet of the rear of the bus smack dab in the path of Train 624.

Diagram of the crossing from the NTSB report, showing the position the bus was in when it was hit. For clarity, the image was turned 90 degrees from it's actual orientation...Algonquin Rd actually runs North/South.

The distances shown in the diagram are (From top to bottom): From the stop-line to the crossing gate; From the northernmost rail to the stop line; From the northernmost rail to the cross walk, and from the northernmost rail to U.S.14's extended curb line. Had Patricia Cattencamp rolled forward about five feet, this would have been a near miss rather than a tragedy.

A satellite view of the crossing as it appears today, with an outline of the school bus to show about how it was sitting when hit. A couple of notable things here. First lets look at the bus. While it's not absolutely to scale. it's as close as I could get it by eye...Patricia Catancamp had plenty of room to pull forward enough to avoid getting hit...but by the same token if she had stayed on the safe side of the crossing, all that would have happened would have been a bus load of kids needing hall passes because they were twenty minutes late, 

After the accident, keeping traffic on the safe side of the crossing became endgame...the traffic signals were moved to the safe side of the crossing, and the crossing signals were set up to pre-empt th traffic signals, causing the traffic signals to turn red (If green) or stay red when the crossing signals/gates were activated. Note the crosshatched area between the stop line and the crosswalk...ths indicates that traffic is not to remain stopped in this area.

Had she been sitting at that light about six years earlier, she'd have been home free, because US 14 was still a two lane road through Fox River Grove back then, but in 1990, US 14 was widened to five lanes...two lanes each way with a center turn lane. The road was also the main drag through town with businesses lining the north side, and the state didn't want to inconvenience the businesses (And more importantly didn't want to have to compensate the owners) by taking land on the north side of the road, so almost all of the new construction took place on the south side of US-14, chopping the distance between the intersection and the UP tracks by about a third...from a shade over 60 feet to about 45 feet. More importantly, it cut the distance between the tracks and the stop line at US 14 to just over 30 feet. The potential of a long vehicle getting trapped at the light was seen early on, so the rail crossing signals and the stop light were interconnected so if a train tripped the crossing signals it would also change the lights to green for traffic on Algonquin, giving any vehicles caught between the tracks and US 14 plenty of time to get clear...anyway, that's the way it was supposed to work.

Then, somewhere along the way some third level bureaucrat decided that there was a need for an automatic pedestrian delay at Algonquin. When this was installed, it kicked in an eighteen to twenty-one second delay...after the light turned red for US 14...before the light turned green for Algonquin. This chopped the time any over-length vehicle on the north side of the tracks had to get clear before a train crossed to somewhere between two and six seconds. That's also when the complaints about the timing of the traffic lights started...I believe there were forty eight of them over a period of less than a year after the pedestrian delay was added.

In fact, as Bus 103 rolled up to the stop light, Fox River Grove's Chief of Police was sitting in a car (Probably drinking a cup of coffee) with a representative of IDOT (Illinois Department of Transportation, and ditto) watching the crossing as the morning's series of Metra trains, along with  a couple of freights, rolled through Fox River Grove, trying to get a handle on just how bad the timing problem was...

Spoiler alert...the problem was real, and it was bad, and it was about to show just how bad it was... tragically and spectacularly.

As Bus 103 rolled across the tracks, Metra train 624 was roaring across the Fox River Bridge, just over a half mile from the Algonquin Rd crossing. Dotson spotted the bus crossing the tracks and decided that it had time to clear, but he still pulled the throttle back into idle and applied the service brakes, just in case...the train slowed down slightly, to about 66 or 67.

The train had already tripped a sequencer for the crossing gates several hundred feet before it reached the Fox River bridge...this sequencer determined the train's speed and how much of a delay to add before lowering the crossing gates and starting the flash and clang of the crossing signals twenty-five seconds before the train got there. Not too many seconds after Train 624 crossed the bridge and it's engineer spotted the bus, the gates at the Algonquin Road crossing started dropping as the crossing signals started up.

A map of Fox River Grove showing Algonquin Road, the tracks, U.S.14, and Seven Angels Crossing which is circled in red.  Note the numbered asterisks. Number 1 shows the approximate point, just north of the Fox River Bridge, where Train 624 tripped the sequencer that determined the train's speed and added a delay before activating the crossing signals and gates twenty-five seconds before the train got to the crossing. Bus 103 was probably just stopping at the light at this point.

Lots of things happened about the time Train 624 reached #2. The Crossing signals and gates activated...but so did the pedestrian delay that kept the traffic light red for Algonquin Rd for an extra 18 seconds. The crossing gate struck the top of the bus. And, very shortly afterward, Ford Dodson slammed Train 624's brakes into full emergency in a futile effort to stop...or at least slow...the train before it hit the bus.

On board Bus 103 some of the kids were carrying on typical teenage conversation while others snoozed. One of the guys who was taking advantage of the ride to catch a few more Zs was jerked awake by a solid 'clunk!' directly above him...he opened an eye, looked out of his window, and saw the crossing gate leaning against the roof of the bus...

He sat up and called out 'Hey guys...Take a look at this!' or words to that effect, but that wasn't entirely necessary because several of the kids had seen the crossing gate hit the bus. As teenagers are wont to do they started joking about it, not yet even vaguely worried about a train actually hitting the bus because it was actually possible for the bus to get hit by the gate and not be on the tracks, because the signal mast was a good fifteen feet from the tracks...but this time...

Train 624 closed on the crossing at 67 miles per hour, and at first the engineer thought the bus was clear. As they drew closer to the crossing he suddenly realized that the back end of the bus, sitting at a slight angle because of the angle at which Algonquin Road crossed the tracks, was actually jutting several feet into his path. The train was somewhere between 650 and 750 feet away from the crossing when Dotson breathed something between a prayer and a curse as, the instant he realized the bus was fouling the tracks, he slammed the bake valve back hard into full emergency and tried to yank the horn lanyard out of the ceiling, knowing it was a futile gesture even as steel wheels started screaming against steel rails.

When the crossing signals started, they also kicked in the traffic signal sequence for Algonquin and US 14...but remember, there was an automatic 18 or so second pedestrian delay before the light turned green for Algonquin. So Patricia Catencamp, completely unaware that the rear end of bus 103 was extending three feet into the path of the train, sat at the light...

The joking remarks like 'Hey, I think a train's coming' became more urgently and decidedly non-joking as the kids at the rear of the bus realized the the left rear corner of Bus 103 was just about even with the rail, then saw the flat front end of Train 624's cab car, with it's single headlight and pair of wig-wagging ditch lights, bearing down on them...they were shouting 'Lady move the bus!!!' and 'Really...pull up!!' Jesus!! We're gonna get hit!!!' as the front end of the train bore down on them. 

Neither she or the boy helping her with the route really listened to what they were saying...teens talking loudly on a school bus is pretty much business as usual...and the music radio was on (Playing 'Runaway', by Janet Jackson at that exact moment) with a speaker directly above the driver, so they didn't hear train 624's horn. As the shouts from the rear of the bus became more frantic by the second, she thought there was some kind of disturbance...AKA a fight...going on at the back of the bus. She looked around towards the back of the bus an instant before the light finally turned green for Algonquin, six seconds before impact...

Several of the kids at the rear of the bus stood up and made a mad rush for the front of the bus, one of them shouting 'I'm getting out of here!!!!

Drivers of cars waiting on the south side if the tracks as well as the police chief and IDOT official had an unwanted front row seat. FRGVFD's chief was also grabbing a cup of coffee in a coffee shop across US 14 from the tracks. On the train a couple of hundred commuters, who had been reading papers and discussing politics, and catching quick naps on the ride in, suddenly braced themselves and asked each other 'What the hell???' as the wheels locked and started screaming against steel rails. A driver and his fifteen year old daughter (Who he was giving a ride to C-GHS, and who probably know the kids on the bus),
 sitting in his pick-up on the safe side of the crossing, started yelling 'Go!! Go!!! For God's sake, GO!!! Sitting in his unmarked car across from the crossing, the Police Chief was probably already reaching for his radio mike...

Train 624 was still moving at 60 MPH as it hurtled into the crossing, sparks bouncing and darting from it's locked wheels. The left front corner of the cab car slammed into the left rear three feet of bus 103 with a solid, deadly, metallic 'CRUMP!!!, instantly bending the rear of it's frame rails almost seven feet to the right, and snapping the bolts and clips holding the bus body to the frame rails as if they were made of balsa wood. The bus body tore loose from the frame and snapped around 180 degrees and change in an eye-blink, leaving a glittering cloud of broken glass in it's wake, taking out a traffic light stanchion as it spun, and throwing kids around like pellets in a rattle, blasting four of them explosively through the windows of the bus.

Over-all view of the scene, viewed from Algonquin Road on the southwest side of the crossing. The bus body snapped around in less than an eye-blink. ejecting four of the kids, when it ripped loose from the chassis while the chassis was just shoved sideways, out of the way. This picture and the one below were taken well into the incident, after all of the injured had been transported. Daily Herald photo

Another over-all scene view from above, and the other side of Algonquin Road, better shows the way the bus body and chassis were oriented after the crash.  Look closely at the rear of the chassis...the frame rails were bent a good six or seven feet to the right in the collision. The tarp was in place because, likely, a couple of the bodies were still in place at this point.
Chicago Tribune Photo

Fox River Grove's fire chief heard the collision and burst through the door of the coffee shop to see the train still sliding, and the shattered bus, in two pieces, sitting in the intersection. The rear of the train slid clear as he keyed up his hand held...the cab car would shudder to a stop just shy of 1500 feet beyond the crossing. FRG Chief 1 called it in as the train's screaming brakes faded to a squeal and finally stopped, calling for a fifth alarm EMS response as he did so. A Hospice nurse was also grabbing a morning cup of coffee in the same coffee shop, she took one look as she came out of the door, and ran across the street to the scene...she'd be the first medically trained person on the scene.

Back then, Fox River Grove FD had a single paid driver who worked daylights during the week...he was getting ready to go in when his pager started warbling, and the dispatcher started rattling off a list of companies to respond that sounded more like the list for morning radio check, then announced something like:

 'Algonquin Road and the tracks, School bus hit by a train...Fox River Grove Chief One on scene and in command.'

He bailed out of the house and into his own ride as Fox River Grove's house siren wailed into the cold morning air.

He heard the chief call dispatch and add a pair of medical helicopters to the assignment as he pulled out of his driveway, His house was only about three blocks away from the scene, so the house siren was likely still wailing as he slid to a stop across from the scene, bailed out, grabbing his gear as he did so, and found the Chief, who immediately put him to work as Triage officer. The station siren wound down to a growl and then stopped as, two blocks or so away on Algonquin, the fire company's first out engine pulled out and swung to the right, aiming for the scene, red lights spinning and winking, siren starting to yowl...Fox River Grove's first out ambulance pulled out behind the engine, it's siren'd be the first of twenty ambulances to respond.

Store employees, customers, and drivers stopped what they were doing and ran to the scene, bent on helping the injured kids as firefighters rolled in and started forcing entry into the bus. The driver and the kids at the front of the bus...being at the pivot point of the bus' spin and subjected to relatively light deceleration forces...suffered the least serious injuries, but keep in mind I said reltively light...they still had a hell of a ride for an instant or so. Catencamp, belted into the driver's seat and suffering only minor injuries, shoved at the door operating handle, giving a good solid push and swinging the door open, allowing the kids at the front of the bus who could do so to just walk off of the bus.

A view of the front of the bus body. Patricia  was able to open the door, allowing several of the least injured kids, who had been sitting near the front of the bus to just walk off of the bus. Look closely at the windows on the left side of the body. and you can see just how badly the body was warped and bent to the right.
Chicago Tribune Photo

The back end of the bus...where the train hit...was a different story entirely. Imagine being inside a baseball that gets whacked for a grand slam home multiply that by ten, and that's what the kids in the last four or five rows of seats felt. The frame rails at the rear of the bus were bent to the right as much as six and a half feet and the last eight feet of the left rear of the body was pushed in...instantly and much as three and a quarter feet when the train hit them. The floor bowed upward, bowing the seats as well, and all of the windows shattered. The only reason that the rear few feet of the bus weren't flattened like a pancake was because the body spun as it was hit, dissipating a lot of the impact force. All seven fatalities occurred at the rear of the bus, five at the scene, and two later at the hospital...four of them were ejected explosively through the shattered left side widows as the bus body snapped around. While none of the kids still inside the bus were physically trapped, the ones in the rear were harder to access due to the damage the the rear of the body, and the jammed emergency exits.

Rear of the bus body from the left side...the side that was hit.
Chicago Tribune Photo

Rear of the bus body, straight you can see just how devastating the impact was...the body panel between the emergency door and the side of the bus was literally accordioned nearly flat. The Fire department removed the door and the window to the right of the door to facilitate both accessing and removing patients. Four of the kids were ejected from the bus explosively as the body whipped around, all four died in the crash. Daily Herald Photo

The first arriving citizens and first responders found a nightmare, with four mortally injured kids lying near the back end of the bus, and moans and cries coming from within the mangled vehicle. The Hospice nurse, treating a gravely injured boy called for something to use for suction. Someone ran across the street and snagged a turkey baster, running it back to her, and she tried desperately to suction his airway, but it was fruitless...he died in her arms. Next to her a young girl, conscious at first, slipped away as she bled out from massive internal injuries. Three other kids were already dead, and inside the bus were over a dozen with either critical or serious injuries. Two of the critically injured kids would also loose their fight for life.

The nightmare was almost too real for one of FRGFD's EMT's. She saw the '103' on the side of the bus as she rolled up to the scene, and felt her heart leap to her throat as her mouth went bone-dry. That was the bus her fifteen year old brother rode. As soon as she bailed out of the rig she started looking for him and spotted him, sitting up, seemingly shell-shocked, but miraculously otherwise apparently uninjured, near the front of the mangled bus body. She rushed over to him, did the quick 'ABC patient assessment that becomes second nature to every EMT everywhere, then, almost crying with relief, hugged him, kissed him on the cheek, said something like 'Thank God you're OK!', then went to work. Her brother was also a cadet member of the fire company, and it wouldn't surprise me if he didn't have to be reminded he was a patient a couple of times before he was transported to the hospital. 

There weren't but four EMTs staffing the first in engine and ambulance when they rolled in eight minutes after the crash, and they were all all but overwhelmed in the first minutes of the operation. but thanks to Fox River Grove's chief calling for help...and lots of it...even as he called it in, additional units were rolling in with-in minutes even though it likely felt like hours before those first four responders heard the welcome sounds of sirens and air horns as additional units rolled in on U.S. 14. 

By 1995, both vehicle rescue and prehospital care had become highly specialized fields. Cary's big heavy rescue was spotted on U.S. 14, and her crew made quick work of removing most of the rear of the bus body so the injured kids who were still inside  be accessed and removed more easily.  Before Cary's rig even arrived, EMTs and Advanced Life Support providers (Cardiac Technician and above) were already stabilizing the patients...both those inside and outside of the bus...and readying them for transport.  Patients were extricated from the bus, started on high flow oxygen, backboarded, had IVs started, and transported in an operation that...though it may have seemed to be chaos to an outsider...was pretty much a well oiled machine.

Parents heard about the crash and descended on the scene en masse, one sector, away from the scene, was set up for them so they could receive information about their kids.

All of the injured kids were transported in an hour and nine minutes, and were in either an emergency room, surgery, or recovery room within 90 minutes of the crash in what would later be called almost a textbook operation.

The recriminations, finger pointing, and a bit of anger of the 'We told IDOT that crossing was &%$$# up!' kind began before the broken bus could even be loaded onto a lowboy and carted to a Illinois State Police impound yard so the NTSB could go over it with a fine toothed comb.

Meanwhile both the route's regular driver and the regular substitute driver were going 'She did what?'​​​
Both of them always stopped on the of the tracks if the light at Algonquin and US 14 was red for them...there was a sensor on the south side that would trip the lights, even though Catencamp didn't realize that...her not realizing things about the bus and the route was an issue we'll visit in a moment.

There was plenty of 'Fail' to go around on this one...First, lets take a look at the crossing noted earlier, if a train tripped the crossing signals, it automatically changed the light on Algonquin to green so an overly long vehicle wouldn't be trapped with it's rear end on the least it did util the pedestrian delay was installed. When the automatic delay for pedestrians was added to the timing sequence it delayed Algonquin Road's green light by 18 seconds, sometimes only giving traffic on the north side of the crossing as little as two and never more than 6 seconds to clear the crossing. It was also a textbook case of one hand not knowing what the other was doing...the changes were made without making any notifications to anyone...all of a sudden the crossing's timing was just screwed up. And even with the complaints, IDOT apparently didn't identify the problem. The NTSB report used several pages to basically say 'They saw the light change to green before the train got there, so all was well with the world'. So what if it was only six freaking seconds before the train got there.

 The Union Pacific noted that it really wasn't their problem...and indeed the traffic signal issue wasn't. The delay before the crossing signals actually tripped, however was. The sequencer mentioned earlier added a delay before the crossing signals and gated tripped, so traffic wouldn't be delayed any longer than necessary. It had originally been set at 30 seconds...but was rolled back to 25 seconds a couple of weeks earlier...and again, no one was notified. Granted, it wouldn't have been but an extra five seconds...but in this case it would have been a five second life saver, because the light would have changed to green before Catencamp looked away from it, and she would have pulled forward.. Remember all she needed to do was pull up about four or so feet, so just taking her foot off the brake would have made it a close call rather than a tragedy.

It didn't take at all long for the NTSB an state investigators to figure this one out, leading them to rub their chins meaningfully and ask 'Wonder how many crossings in The Great State of Illinois are similarly screwed up.

The answer to that question would have been 'Over 50'. The appropriate changes and adjustments were made post-haste.

Then there was the driver. And, arguably even more culpable, the school system. Patricia Catencamp was not a bad employee by any means...but she didn't normally drive a school bus. She was an administrator. A very good administrator, as for as her bosses were concerned, but still, she normally didn't find her self behind the wheel of a school bus. True, she'd had her CDL with an enhancement to drive a school bus for several years, and she kept her training up to date, but she didn't drive a bus that often and had never driven this all. Had she driven the route and talked to her other drivers, she would, of course, known that there was a sensor on the south side of the tracks to change the lights on Algonquin to green.

Even more importantly she would have known that bus 103 wouldn't fit between the stop line at US 14 and the tracks. She had no clue as to how long the bus was, how to judge just when her vehicle wouldn't fit in a given space, how to judge where the back corners were, and was apparently driving the bus with the attitude that it would fit where ever she put it. In the course of being interviewed she stated...several times...that it never crossed her mind that the bus wouldn't fit.

This was just as much of a training fail on the part of the school district as it was a personal fail for her. I know that when taking EVOC (Emergency Vehicles Operator's course) we have a practical exam that that we absolutely had to pass before we could drive an emergency vehicle. The practical consists of a course that's laid out (By absolutely diabolical instructors, I might add) using traffic cones, and is designed to absolutely ensure that you know where the corners of your vehicle are and where it will and will not fit. You could only knock down a very few of those cones before you failed the practical.

In Virginia, school bus drivers have to pass a very similar course....but this is 20 years and change later, too. I can't help but wonder here just how extensive the training of school bus drivers actually was in Illinois back in 1989, when Patricia Catencamp first got her enhancement to drive school buses, and if a similar practical course had to be mastered and passed. Of course there's also the question of just how much she retained...driving a large vehicle can be a somewhat perishable other words, if you don't use it, you ultimately loose it.

This accident was different from the other several I've covered in this series of posts because Patricia Catencamp didn't try to beat a train, nor did she drive onto the tracks without even looking. Still the mistake she did make, that of not knowing pertinent information about her bus or her route, was just as deadly, especially when coupled with the screwed up timing on the traffic signal. Patricia Catencamp would never drive a school bus again, but still worked for the school district's transportation division for another five years before retiring in 1999, then moving out of state..

The school district was cited by the NTSB for lack of oversight and lack of communication within it's own ranks. While the regular driver and the regular substitute driver knew to wait for the light on the south side of the crossing, this (And a few other safety issues that, thankfully, never caused an accident before they were discovered and corrected) was never made an official policy. I mean really, think about this...the honchos in charge of the transportation division...responsible for transporting a few thousand children daily...were clueless about safety problems on the bus routes. Unofficial policies were apparently passed along between drivers during morning coffee stops, before beginning their routes.

There was, however, apparently no specified chain of command to pass reported hazards upward to the proper authorities, nor, after a hazard was identified, and steps taken to mitigate it, pass just what those steps were back downward to the drivers. The drivers, therefore, passed the information among themselves...but again, apparently none of this information ever got passed to the transportation division's administration, leaving Patricia Catencamp, who was an administrator, in the dark. It was stated that, before the Fox River Grove crash, there hadn't been a fatal accident in Illinois since 1989, and that the school district in which the accident occurred had a spotless safety record.

When you dig into it a bit, you really kinda begin to wonder just how much a little...or maybe a lot...of luck had to do with this spotless safety record.

The new School bus safety standards showed both how effective and how ineffective they were. The bus body stayed in one piece and tore away from the chassis, thereby dissipating some of the energy, but that didn't help the kids sitting in the rear of the bus. But then again very little would help in a case such as this...there's just no way the body of a school bus is going to stand up to a direct hit from a train and come out of it without serious injuries and fatalities on board, no matter how well the bus is built.

No criminal charges were filed due to the crash, but there were lawsuits, which dragged their way through the courts for nearly a decade. The cases were ultimately settled eight years later...the parents of each child killed received 2.5 million dollars. Ask any of those seven sets of parents and they'll tell you that they'd give every cent of it back if they could see their child sitting at the breakfast table, griping about having to get up so early...

<***>Links, Notes, and Stuff<***>

The other posts in this series
in the order they were posted.

March 1972

October 1971

August 1976  Conasauga Tenn.  March 2000   Sandy, Utah Dec 1938  Proberta, California Nov 1921  Shreve and Berea Ohio Jan. 1930  Crescent City, Florida December 1933  Rockville, Maryland April 1935  MAson City, Iowa Oct. 1937 Eads, Tennessee Oct. 1941


There was all kinds of information available online about this one, and the number of articles just keeps rising as each anniversary of the crash ending with a '5' or a '0' approaches. A couple of these articles actually go into deeper detail than I did here, and they definitely made researching this post a much easier task than most of the others. Of course, the fact that the accident only occurred about twenty years ago helped as well.

Also, I had the NTSB report available to me...having that document available is always a plus when it comes to writing these posts because you are able to glean irrefutable details of exactly how the accident occurred as well as accurate figures for speeds, distances, etc.

One thing the NTSB report doesn't give you is the human factor...the other articles provide that, and that is the factor that makes the difference between a bone-dry history lesson, and a blog post that can be read as either a recreational read or as a research tool. That's what I try yo make all of my posts, anyway.

At any rate the huge supply of info available about this particular accident made researching and writing it a breeze (As well as fixing it when I almost accidentally deleted the whole thing while I was adding some new info a week or so ago as I type this...but that's another story!)

As always I hope I made this one informative as well as readable!

On to the Notes!


Dateline covered the crash in some detail in a story a week or so after it occurred, and I managed to find a video of the segment...It's only about ten minutes, but covers the accident in good, and interesting detail.

Very shortly after the NTSB finished their investigation and released their findings, IDOT  and the Union Pacific got together and eliminated the hazard at Seven Angels Crossing by doing what they should have done in the first place...they moved the stop line for the traffic light to the south (Safe) side of the crossing.

This also greatly simplified the timing for the signals, as well as the interconnect.  If the traffic light was green when a train activated the crossing signals, it simply pre-empted the traffic light, changing  it to red for Algonquin Road, thereby stopping traffic at the stop line on the south side of the crossing. The light would stay red for Algonquin Road for as long as the crossing signals were activated. The traffic light probably starts it's change cycle (Green-Yellow-Red) a couple of seconds before the crossing signals activate.

Any traffic on Algonquin Road passing through the green light and crossing the tracks as the train preempted the traffic light would still have plenty of time to clear the tracks and intersection as the light went through it's change cycle.

If the light was already red when the crossing signals activated, the normal timing sequence for the traffic lights would be interrupted, keeping the light red for Algonquin until the train passed.

Kinda makes ya wonder why they didn't just do that in the first place.

South (Safe) side of the crossing, looking towards US-14, showing the new traffic signals, on the same masts as the crossing signal as well as a signal on the left side of the road.  The sign next to the pick-up stopped at the light reads :

The North (Hot) side of the crossing, viewed from US 14, showing the cross-hatched area between the tracks and the former stop line, prohibiting traffic from remaining stopping in that area on a red signal. Also, if yo look at the left center of the pic, you can see the memorial for the seven students who died, which I discuss in detail further down in 'NOTES'.


One of the many changes brought about by this accident was the hiring of a full time safety coordinator by the  school district whose only job would be monitoring all facets of school bus safety, and making changes as needed.

Interestingly enough...and this was brought to my attention by a reader...Patricia Catencamp's actual title was assistant coordinator of transportation, and one of her many functions was apparently the training of school bus drivers.  

I have a feeling that her main activity in training them was assigning new drivers to a veteran driver to train and asking said veteran driver how said new driver was doing and if they were ready to be turned loose yet.

Sadly, she didn't have enough motivation or care enough to obtain all the information needed to do an adequate job of training new drivers, and it was likely up to the veteran drivers to bring the newer drivers up to speed on traffic conditions, hazards, etc...a task they obviously handled without breaking a sweat. Unfortunately, this information never made it back to Catencamp, who never even tried to make herself knowledgeable about the equipment or routes she was responsible for...even though she was responsible for training new driver's on that very information in the first place.

I don't think she was completely or even intentionally incompetent...the school district kept her as an administrative employee even after the accident, though she never drove a school bus again. I do think, however, that she had so many things on her plate that she delegated a lot of her responsibilities, to the point that the 'Training and Safety' part of her job description was being handled completely by the other drivers. And the absolute lack of reverse information flow to administration (Drivers knowing about hazards and how to mitigate them, but not informing the administrative staff unless the Administrators asked them...which apparently never happened) ended up biting her in the ass...and resulting in the death of seven kids while at it.


Interestingly enough, on April 12th, 1984, seven years after the new DOT school bus safety standards went into effect and ten and a half years before the Fox River Grove bus crash. there was a similar...yet different...crash involving a post-D.O.T regulation school bus and a train just west of Carrsville, Virginia, a few miles east of Franklin and about 30 miles from my home town of Boykins. 

The bus in Virginia was hit at the extreme front of the bus rather than the extreme rear, which made all the difference in the world in the outcome of the two crashes, as the Carrsville crash resulted in no student deaths, and only a couple of major injuries (But, sadly, resulted in the death of the driver).

At about 3:25 in the afternoon on that date, the driver of an Isle of Wight County, Va school bus pulled into a lane off of State Route 615, hard by the Chesapeake and Ohio tracks, dropped off  kids at several stops, than backed 900 feet or so to an intersecting lane and backed into it to turn around. She then shifted gears, swung the bus south on 615, and crossed the tracks without stopping, something she had done, according to witnesses, regularly. 

This time, however, a C&O freight was west bound and close, running at the speed limit of 49 MPH for that stretch of track. The driver...already on the crossing...saw the train, stopped the bus with the front wheels on the crossing, and possibly tried to get the bus into reverse and back up. Unfortunately she stalled the bus, and the freight...sliding by then, steel screaming against steel, it's brakes locked in full emergency...slammed into the right front of the bus.

Just as happened at Fox River Grove a decade later, the entire body of the bus separated from the chassis, and spun 180 degrees, though, unlike Bus 103, the body of the Virginia bus also rolled after it separated from the chassis, landing on it's left side about 85 feet from the crossing. There were twenty-six kids on the bus when it got hit, and this time all stayed with the bus body as it spun and rolled. One of them was critically injured, two more seriously injured, and the rest suffered minor injuries of the cuts-bumps-and bruises variety. Most of the kids scrambled out through the hole where the front of the bus used to be, and all of them would recover from their injuries. The driver suffered critical injuries, and, sadly, died five days after the accident. 

Thanks to the new safety standards, and the more robust construction of newer bus bodies, most of these kids just went for a wild and terrifying ride. The bus body, pretty well mangled at the front end, stayed in one piece through the collision, spin, and resulting roll-over, and this was a huge factor in the survivability of this particular accident.

While there are several parallels between the two crashes...both buses were hit at the extreme end of the chassis, and the bodies of both buses separated from the chassis and spun 180 degrees in their respective crashes...when you compare the two accidents you see a couple of very important differences.

 While neither bus was full...The Virginia bus was at least a quarter way through it's run, so a good number of the kids had already gotten off and Bus 103 was about two thirds of the way through it's run so it wasn't full yet either...the age old etiquette of school bus seating played polar opposite roles in the two crashes, again, because of just where they were hit. School buses inevitably fill up from back to front, so many of the kids were sitting towards the rear of both buses when they were hit. 

In Virginia,  the train hit the extreme front end of the bus, just about at the joint between the bus body and the cowl, therefore all of the kids were seated well behind the point of impact, and the three kids who suffered the worst injuries, according to the NTSB report, were also the three kids seated closest to the front of the bus. All of the kids in the rear of the bus just went for a wild, terrifying, and traumatizing ride. They were banged, bumped and bruised, and several absolutely refused to get on a school bus again (Backed up, I might add, by their parents, and I can't blame them a bit) but they were alive, and relatively unscathed.

Bus 103, however, was hit at the very rear...where the majority of the kids were sitting...and even though the train only caught the last three feet of the bus, the results were devastating, because so many of the kids were sitting at or very near the point of impact.

 Another factor in the Fox River Grove crash was the fact that four of the kids were ejected, all four of whom died in the crash. Three of the kids who stayed with the bus, but were seated near the rear, were also mortally injured. The injuries got progressively less severe the closer to the front of the bus any given student was seated.

SO the different outcomes in the two accidents prove one point very clearly...while the new post DOT standard buses are dozens of ways better than the old buses, and while they do, indeed, with-stand being involved in an accident...even with a train...far better than the older buses, the occupants' survival is very dependent on where they're sitting in relation to he point of impact. 

Or, to put it in simpler terms, surviving an accident such as these two crashes is pretty much a matter of chance because the closer you're sitting to the the point of impact in a train-bus crash, the higher your likelihood of suffering severe or fatal injuries, no matter how new the bus is or how well it's built. . And the best way to avoid injuries and fatalities in a bus/train crash is still to avoid putting a bus load of kids in the path of an oncoming train in the first place.


Remember that pedestrian delay that was at the root of the accident? A study was done after the crash. And just how many pedestrians crossed Algonquin Rd at it's intersection with US 14 in, say, an eight hour period? Four. None of them during the time period when the bus crash occurred.


Fox river Grove made every school district in the nation stand up and take a look at it's school bus routes, hazard recognition, and bus driver training...not the general bus driver training that by 1995 was mandatory in all 50 states, but district-specific training. Hazards were identified, policies and procedures designed to avoid those hazards developed, personnel trained on those policies, and in more than a few cases, nationwide, bus routes were changed if need be. Railroad crossing/traffic signal interconnects and timing were checked, and improvements were made. All of this was awesome, and the nations children were even safer when riding buses to and from school, but sadly though, it also reinforced the fact that it usually takes a major disaster of some kind to force changes for the better in any situation where injuries or fatalities could occur. This has been a trend for a couple of centuries, and unfortunately, it's a trend that'll continue for any of a few dozens reasons, from management's desire to save money, to apathy, to complacency, to ignorance that the hazard exists at all.


I can't think of anything...short of witnessing the death of a sibling, parent, or other loved one...that can traumatize a child of any age more deeply than surviving a major accident such as any of the bus train accidents I've discussed in these six posts...or, in fact, any major accident. Not only is the child having to deal with his own fear and pain, he's dealing with worry about his or her friends, who they just witnessed being injured, or worse. The friendships forged during a child's first 18 years of life are among the strongest friendships they will ever experience, and to see a close friend seriously injured, or worse, be killed is brutally devastating in ways that can last a lifetime.. Not only do they fear for their friends, and mourn them deeply if they should die, it also reminds them, brutally, that they, too, can die...a fact that many teens seem to ignore. Having their own mortality pointed out to them graphically is a legitimately horrible wake-up call to a child, especially if they themselves are injured.

At least by the Mid-Nineties, the notion of 'They just need to get over it and move on with their lives' had been cast aside, and it was recognized that counseling had to be made available to the kids involved in traumatic incidents such as this. Also, not only was counseling made available to the survivors of an incident, it was also made available to the rest of the students at the school they attended. Trust me on this...this was a huge improvement in preserving the mental health of anyone touched by a traumatic incident.


Not only were the kids on Bus 103, and their fellow Trojans from Cary-Grove High School devastated by the accident, the entire community was shattered, as would be the case in any small town touched by disaster. Everyone in Fox River Grove was either directly affected by the crash, or knew someone who was, and as one source noted dejectedly, 'The funerals seemed to go on forever'.

Small towns band together in times of adversity, and the residents bond even more closely than usual. Blue and white ribbons (Cary-Grove's school colors) appeared everywhere, on trees, sign posts, you name it. The decision to memorialize the seven teens who died in the crash was made early, seemlessly, and all but automatically, even as one of the kids at Cary-Grove coined the name for the crossing that sticks to this day...Seven Angels Crossing, a name that was ultimately made official by state proclamation.

Residents of Fox River grove faced a bit of an uphill battle to even get a memorial placed there, as the Union Pacific nixed the idea of a memorial at the crossing itself, and it wasn't until IDOT offered the use of their easement for the memorial, and offered to erect it, that things got off the ground. (UP still tried to block the memorial...I mean, Really, U.P.? Really??? IDOT basically told them 'It's our easement, we'll do what we want with it.)

Problem Two reared it's head...IDOT was going to erect a monument of their own design, with no input from the community. They wanted a four foot high, two foot wide polished stone monument, and the residents of Fox River Grove didn't want anything that was that 'In Your Face'. They wanted the seven kids remembered and memorialized, but they didn't want to be reminded of the crash any more than they were anyway when they passed the crossing.

IDOT...known for being difficult to deal with at times...cooperated with the residents, and let them have final input on the design of the memorial, which would not only memorialize the seven teens who dies, but offer thanks to the dozens of people who stopped, dropped what they were doing, and helped at the scene.

The design that was ultimately agreed upon incorporated a pair of plaques attached to small stones, surrounded by a small memorial garden. It's located on the northeast corner of Algonquin and US 14, hard by the crossing itself...a touching memorial to the Fox River Grove's Seven Angels.

The memorial to The seven young people who died in the crash. Photos below show both of the plaques memorializing the victims of the crash.

The Seven Angels Memorial wasn't the only memorial dedicated to the Seven Angels...Cary-Grove High School also, after nine months of planning, fund rising, and construction, unveiled their own Friendship Circle to the seven teens. The Memorial was conceived and brought into existence by C-GHS's Booster Club, along with contributions of time and money from all over the country, and even internationally. They created a sweet, and touching memorial...from the November 2nd, 1996 Chicago Tribune:

The paved circle is by a hill planted with seven dwarf Montgomery Blue Spruce trees. On the street side of the circle, the school name appears on a low stone wall; on the inside, a plaque reads: "The Friendship Circle dedicated to treasured friendships which shall be forever in our hearts." A low stone bench sits above brick pavers set in a circle. Thirty six white stones set in a semicircle represent the 35 bus riders and the bus driver involved in the accident.

The Booster Club also set up a scholarship in the name of the seven teens, and a donation was made to Fox River Grove Junior High so they could create a mural dedicated to the seven students who died.


Fox River Grove's Volunteer fire company also memorialized the seven teenagers by kicking off an annual blood drive on the fifteenth anniversary of the crash. This isn't the only way they memorialized them, though. In 2010, they fire company took delivery of a new ambulance, and numbered it Ambulance 657. That '7' is actually out of sequence in the county numbering system ('6' designates the company number, '5' designates the type of rig, and the third number normally designates the number of rigs of that type, I.E. '652' would be Fox River Grove's second of two ambulances) but they did this for a very good, and moving, reason. The '7' in the unit number wears a halo and wings, memorializing the 'Seven Angels of Fox River Grove'.


There was a time...not all that long ago...that Fire/EMS personnel and Police officers were pretty much expected to roll with the punches, shake it off, and just deal with the aftermath of a major incident such as this. I actually remember hearing that the Chief of Department of a fire department that I'm quite familiar with said that 'His guys were tough, they didn't need any of that' after  an early form of Critical Incident Stress Debriefing was offered to the members of companies that responded to a particularly gruesome incident. (This particular Chief...a very well respected leader in the profession, respect, I might add, that was legitimate and well earned...after discussing the subject with other fire service leaders and mental health professionals changed his tune 180 degrees)

The thing is, not only does an incident such as this affect first Responders, it does so deeply,...possibly more deeply than anyone else involved other than the relatives of the victims...because they are dealing with the immediate aftermath of the accident up close and personal. It's bad enough to roll in on a major incident with multiple patients, some of whom are deceased and others...sometimes many others...who are suffering from severe injuries (And if you make the patients kids it's doubly bad. If the incident occurs in a small town where the first responder knows many of the people involved, it's bad in ways that can't even be measured.

The last scenario, which is the one fire, EMS, and P.D, responding to Fox River Grove found themselves in the middle of, is a psychological double-whammy of nightmare proportions, but the effect this type of incident had on a person was not only not understood until about three decades or so wasn't even recognized. I have a horrible feeling that undiagnosed PTSD was the reason many promising careers were ended way too early, the reason many marriages and relationships suddenly went south, and the reason many first responders turned to alcohol and substance abuse back in the day.  Because again, up until around the Mid-Eighties, at least in my neck of the woods, fire, EMS, and P.D. were expected to just deal with it and carry on. the Psychological effects of this type of incident just were not recognized.

Thankfully,  by 1995, the problem was understood, and Critical Incident Stress Debriefing was available, and many of the Fox River Grove First Responders took advantage of it.

I'm going to throw a caveat in here, too. C.I.S.D. isn't a doesn't make the effects of working a bad incident go away, but it does allow the affected person to understand his feelings and be better prepared to deal with them, as well as giving him peers he can discuss his feelings with.

All in all a far, far better way of doing things than the 'Suck it up and deal with it' of old.


The caveat I threw in at the end of the last note can not be overemphasized. Critical Incident Stress Debriefings and counseling for citizens involved in such an incident does not cure the only makes it far easier to seal with. The firefighters who responded to the call, the parents and siblings of the victims, the kids on the bus who survived, the kids who went to school with them... all of them will have memories of the crash with them, in the back of their mind, daily. Hopefully all of them have managed to find some peace.


As I've noted, the Fire/EMS operation at the crash was almost text-book, and for many years the fire officers who were in command of the scene were very much in demand as speakers, giving lectures about how they handled the scene at numerous Fire Service and EMS conventions and symposiums.
They finally had to stop lecturing when reliving the incident over and over again began to take too much of a toll.


Seven Angels Crossing would claim an eighth young victim, and in one of the most tragic ironies in modern history, this accident occurred exactly eleven years after the bus crash...October 25th, 2006.

At a little after 6:00 PM, a 15 year old freshman at C-GHS was riding his bike to a fast food restaurant to meet his sister (Who worked there) and parents for supper. He was accompanied by a friend and as teenage boys are wont to do they were joking, cutting up, and carrying know, doing teen boy stuff.

Whatever they were doing, they didn't notice the crossing signals and stop-light activate on Algonquin Road, and as they were (Most likely) riding on the sidewalk, their way wasn't blocked by the crossing gates. At 6:10 PM, the youth rode his bike onto the crossing, into the path of an out-bound Metra train.

His friend managed to get stopped before he reached the crossing, the train's engineer probably didn't even have time to react before hitting the boy, who died instantly in the accident.

In another layer of irony,  several of the Fire/EMS and Police personnel who were first in on the bus crash were also first to respond to this accident, which tore old wounds open for the entire community.


There were dozens of links available for this one...Newspaper articles, magazine articles, Blog name it, it was out there, and they keep arriving on every anniversary year, especially the ones ending in a '5' or '0'

This made it especially difficult to pick and choose the links to include with this post, and as I find new links I'll likely add them.

Unfortunately, when (Spelled 'Fixed after I almost deleted it a week back as I write this') this post, I found that one of my favorite links...a very insightful and well written Word Press post...was now a dead link, so if anyone''s looking for that one, sadly, it's owner decided to delete their blog. Too bad, too, because it had some extremely good posts in it.

<***>  The all but inevitable Wikipedia article   NTSB Report on the accident. Very in-depth and detailed and a very interesting read. The conclusions at the end are particularly interesting. All of the recommendations made by the NTSB are also detailed. It's a PDF file, so you'll need a PDF reader such as Adobe Acrobat reader, but it's also downloadable so you can read it at your leisure.   Former Illinois State Representative Cal Skinner's post about the accident on the McHenry County Blog, published on the 20th anniversary of the accident. It was Mr Skinner who introduced the resolution to o0fficially name the crossing Seven Angels Crossing as well as that to rediuuce the speed limit for trains passing through Fox River Grove from 70 to 50.

A Chicago Tribune article about the crash, written the next day (10-26-95)    A Chicago Tribune article article published on the tenth anniversary of the accident.,,20102078,00.html  A very insightful and moving article about the Hospice Nurse who was the first medically trained person to reach the scene... seconds after it happened...published in People Magazine about three weeks after the accident. This was a national (And in fact, International) story...this article is from TheDesert News, out of Salt Lake City. 

A Bicyclist's blog with an article (Basically a reprint of a news story) about the teenager killed in the second accident at Seven Angels's Crossing...scroll down about a third of the way down the page to find the article.




  1. One of my friend’s child was involved in this accident and all of us remember this incident quite vividly. I used to work with a DUI attorney Los Angeles when I got to know about this accident. Though now John has become a young man but even this accident left a deep impact in his mind.

  2. Thank you this is a very well written article. There is one thing that all the articles leave out and should be corrected. The "Substute" bus driver in this case was actually the instructor of all the bus drivers for district 155. She did the training which put her in a position of knowing all the routes since she was the one who trained the drivers in those days. I know this for a fact because I'm the mother of one of the seven childrend killed by her mistake.

    1. DeborahAnn, I am so sorry for your loss, I can't even begin to imagine your pain. May God bless.

    2. Thanks for your kind comments, and for letting me know about this. I'll add in the notes as I update.