Health and Fitness

Family of woman killed in Metra train crash in Clarendon Hills says collision with truck was preventable

CHICAGO (CBS) — An attorney for the family of a 72-year-old woman who was killed when the Metra train she was riding hit a semi-truck in west suburban Clarendon Hills said the collision “was an accident waiting to happen.”

Christina Lopez, of Downers Grove, was killed when a BNSF Railway line train hit a truck that had stopped on the tracks in Clarendon Hills around 8 a.m. Wednesday. An autopsy is scheduled for Thursday.

Metra officials have said, based on initial reports, the truck apparently got stuck behind another vehicle just before the crash.

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Christina Lopez, 72, was killed when a Metra train she was riding hit a truck stopped on the tracks in Clarendon Hills, Illinois, on May 11, 2022.

Supplied Photo


Steve Jamboy, an attorney for Lopez’s family, said there had been multiple complaints filed with Clarendon Hills about that railroad crossing, but nothing was done.

“From everything I’ve heard, that was an accident waiting to happen; that the traffic, because of the construction at that intersection, was so slowed down that people were in harm’s way quite frequently, and that this was something that was bound to happen, and was very preventable,” he said.

Asked if the family plans to sue the village of Clarendon Hills over the crash, Jamboy said they are waiting for the results of investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Illinois Commerce Commission.

NTSB officials were expected to discuss the investigation into the crash Thursday afternoon.

Meantime, Lopez’s son-in-law, Jeff Klonowski, asked anyone who might have information about previous problems at the intersection to come forward.

“This accident was preventable. If anyone has information, video footage, or any information that could help us get to some answers, we would much appreciate it, so please, please reach out. We want to get to answers, but also importantly we want to do our part to help, so that no family has to do and go through this tragedy again. It didn’t have to happen,” he said.

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A truck rolled over and burst into flames after colliding with a Metra train in Clarendon Hills on May 11, 2022.

CBS


CBS 2 spoke to a delivery driver about issues with the train crossing.

Daniel Pehrson said he comes through the crossing at least 30 times a day while making his deliveries.

“There is a four-inch lip that’s very sharp, and every single driver that comes on through here has to slow down to almost a stop to go over it,” he said. “I actually got stuck on the tracks one time from somebody stopping and not going on the other side, and I was on tracks, and I was kind of nervous, but there was no train coming.”

Meantime, Klonowski said Lopez’s family is thankful for the outpouring of support they’ve received from the community since his mother-in-law was killed.

Lopez, a retired cleaning woman, was a mother of three and grandmother of five, and Klonowski said she frequently babysat for her grandchildren in Downers Grove.

“She was a devoted sister to her 10 siblings, seven of which are still with us today. She was a caring aunt to many nieces and nephews, as you can imagine. And she was a loyal, lifelong friend to many,” he said.

Klonowski said the family was fortunate to be able to celebrate with Lopez and most of their extended family on Mother’s Day, just days before the crash.

“We do know that she’ll be terribly missed,” he said. “Some people are black and white, other people are gray. She was the gray, but I say that in the most positive way. She was the glue to the family.”

Klonowski said Lopez was on her way to visit her sister in La Grange at the time of the crash.

“We should all be thankful for the time that we have. I mean, time is a commodity that you just cannot get more of, and it’s a sharp reminder to take advantage of the time that you have with loved ones, focus on what is important,” he said.

Lopez had moved to Downers Grove a few years ago, after living most of her life in Chicago, and most recently working to clean offices at WLS-TV in downtown Chicago before she retired, according to Klonowski.

CBS 2’s Sabrina Franza obtained exclusive video of the accident. The video was taken by Tom Szurgot from a car waiting at the crossing. Bells are heard and red lights are flashing, but the truck is poised under a partially-lowered crossing gate.


Video: Metra train hits truck in Clarendon Hills

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First, two people are seen getting out of the truck as the Metra train sounds its horn. Then, the Metra train plows right into the truck, also demolishing the crossing gate and taking down overhead wires. A cloud of black smoke emerges on the other side of the train, and the remains of the truck are revealed to be on fire after the train passes.

“It just sounded like, you can’t explain it,” said Samije Ademi. “It’s something when you hear it, your heart beating starts getting faster because you know it’s not normal.”

Ademi also took video, showing a tower of flames and smoke on the track after the wreckage of the truck was engulfed.

“It felt like it was off the chair, for sure,” Ademi said, “and then my bag just went on the floor.”

Witnesses told us they saw the truck stalled. Del’s Moving and Storage, whose logo is seen on the truck in the horrifying cellphone video, declined to comment on the crash.

Four other people on the Metra train were injured in the crash that killed Lopez – including two passengers, a train conductor, and a train engineer.

The truck driver was able to escape before the train hit the truck, and was not injured.

Some power also lines came down, which might have affected power in the area.

The truck was badly burned, and the train also had major damage from the collision.

“The ringing of the whistle, and then a huge noise. To me, the first thing that occurred to me was the train had hit something,” said witness Krish Rangaswamy.

Emily Schwitz, who works nearby, said she saw the incident unfold. She said a crossing gate had come down, but the warning was not in full effect.

“One of the actual things had gone down, but there wasn’t any sounds. So I saw the driver get out of the driver’s seat and run, and by the time I looked back, the truck had been flipped almost upside down,” she said.

The BNSF Railway was shut down for several hours after the crash on Wednesday, but resumed limited service ahead of the evening rush. On Thursday, the line was operating on a Saturday schedule, and was not making any stops in Clarendon Hills.

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