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Death toll now 7 in bus-train crash

bus October 26, 1995
Web posted at: 3:30 p.m. EDT

FOX RIVER GROVE, Illinois (CNN) -- Two more high-school students have died from injuries sustained in a tragic bus-train collision, raising the death toll to seven.

The girls had been listed in critical condition. Nine other students remained hospitalized Thursday, two in critical condition.

Some 12 hours after a commuter train smashed into a school bus, killing five youngsters and injuring 30, investigators finished their examination of the scene. The twisted, smashed remains of the bus then were raised from the tracks and hauled away (888K QuickTime movie). But so many questions remained. Authorities want to know exactly how the tragedy occurred. Friends and families of the young victims want to know why.

bus midair The accident occurred around 7:20 a.m. CDT. A Metra commuter express on its way to downtown Chicago had just left the Crystal Lake station en route to Barrington. As the train reached Fox River Grove crossing at around 50 miles per hour, it plowed into the back of the bus, spinning it around and tearing the top of the bus off its chassis.

map The bus, from Cary-Grove High School, had just crossed the tracks. Its back end was extending over the rail line as it waited to turn right onto Illinois 14. (793K QuickTime movie)

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said it would be looking at the train's "event recorder" as well as investigating whether a traffic signal at the crossing was operating properly.

"The signal is supposed to turn green (when a train approaches) to allow any traffic that may be trapped on the track to proceed," said Ken Rodgers of the NTSB.

girls crying NTSB rep At Cary-Grove High School 50 counselors were on hand to meet grieving students. The night before, many of them had attended an emotional memorial service. Some walked arm in arm, stopping to hug their peers.

"Shawn sat behind me in algebra," said one girl of victim Shawn Robinson, 14. "And it's going to be turning around everyday not seeing his face. It's just going to hurt." She could barely speak through her sobbing.

So many mourners arrived that a second service was scheduled. Meanwhile, at the accident scene, an impromptu shrine took shape as families and friends left cards and notes.

girls crying "It's a stunned response," said Crisis Center counselor Ron Hall. "The next day is when the reality sets in. ... This is a strong community. We'll survive."

NTSB investigator John Goglia said the METRA train is authorized to travel at 70 miles per hour over the section of track where the accident occurred.

"We have secured the train event recorder. An initial readout is to take place Thursday. Then it will be sent to our labs in Washington, D.C.," Goglia said Wednesday night. "It records, among other things, speed and braking, throttle position, train direction, and whether or not and how long the whistle was blowing."

On Wednesday, METRA officials said the engineer sounded the train's horn and slammed on the brakes as he approached the crossing.

Goglia said people have been telling officials that there were previous problems with the traffic signals at the fatal intersection.

Hug rep Coreen Bachinsky, who witnessed the crash, said the light was red at the intersection as the bus waited with a car in front of it and one behind it. She said the children who were sitting in the back of the bus saw the train coming and were desperately moving toward the front of the bus when it was hit. (308K WAV sound or 308K WAV sound)

An official of the Illinois Department of Transportation said one of the questions yet to be answered was why the driver went across the tracks when the signal light was red on the other side.

Teresa Robinson, who was on the bus, has the same question. "Everybody was telling her to get off the tracks," she said. "I mean the gate hit the bus. Why would she even stay there on the tracks?" Still, said Robinson, the kids were laughing; they had no idea the train would move so quickly. "I thought it was all a dream," she said. (183K WAV sound or 183K WAV sound)

The driver, Patricia Catencamp, 54, was a training supervisor for the bus company, authorities said, and was filling in for the regular driver on the route. The Illinois secretary of state's office said Catencamp had been licensed since 1987 and had no accidents on her driving record.

The McHenry County coroner's office listed the dead as Jeffrey J. Clark, 17, Michael B. Hoffman, 14, Joseph A. Kalte, 16, Shawn P. Robinson, 14, and Tiffany Schneider, 15.

Stephanie Fulham, 15, and Susanna Guzman, 18, died Thursday morning.

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