Woman, baby killed by train in North Chicago

March 13, 2010 8:20:49 PM PST
A family tragedy occurred when a woman and her 1-year-old goddaughter were struck and killed by a Metra train.The woman's husband and teenage daughter were able to get out of the way in time. They were all rushing to catch a train to Chicago.

The tears were still fresh Saturday night, and the pain was apparent. Gonzalo Alvarran Flores was steps away when a train took the life of his wife Blanca Villanueva-Sanchez, 34, and her one-and-a-half year-old goddaughter Maria Cruz earlier in the day.

Flores said the family waited in the car until the train approached. He thought the train was slowing down. So, they crossed. He and his daughter first. His wife and little Maria were right behind them.

It all happened at approximately 8 a.m. Saturday near the North Chicago Metra station on the Union Pacific line. The baby's mother had just dropped the family off.

Sanchez died at the scene. The 1-year-old made it to the hospital, but doctors were not able to save her.

"I've been here 17 years, and I've seen people trying to do the same thing. I don't know why they do it. I just tell people they have to see what I see, and what I saw was an angel that passed away for no reason, for a bad choice," said Sgt. Sal Cecala of North Chicago police.

The North Chicago train station is on the opposite side of the tracks as the parking lot and access road. That means people heading downtown have to cross two sets of tracks to board a train.

There are no pedestrain gates at the station, but bells signal a train's approach, and engineers are not shy about the using the horn.

Despite Saturday morning's deaths, by late afternoon, people were, once again, ignoring the warnings. ABC7 spotted a man, who walks with a cane, cross in front of a train just seven seconds before it passed.

"Unfortunately, every single day people take chances," said Metra spokesperson Judy Pardonnet.

"On a regular basis, they do run across the tracks every day just trying to beat the time schedule," said North Chicago resident Reginald Moton, who saw the aftermath of Saturday morning's accident from his living room window. "If you're not sure you're going to make it, don't take the chance."

Metra said the train involved was not even scheduled to stop in North Chicago; it runs express to the next stop. Had the accident not occurred, the train would have gone by, making way for another train not too far behind that the family could have caught to make it to Chicago.

A spokesperson also said while other stations have more safety features, like pedestrian gates, the reality is people often walk around them.

The other victims in incidents like Saturday's are members of the train crew, including the engineer. They're the ones who see it coming and have to go out and confirm what happened. ABC7 is told they are being offered counseling.