Police: Note could provide clues in fatal car-train crash

July 22, 2011 (OAK FOREST, Ill.)

According to a source, investigators say they found a note from one of the victims that could provide them with clues as to why their car slammed into a Metra Rock Island train Thursday afternoon near a crossing gate at 167th and central in Oak Forest.

The victims are Gail Crabtree, 97, and Donna Grace, 81, both of Tinley Park. A Metra spokesperson said that Grace was the driver of the car that collided with the train.

Grace and Crabtree had been best friends for more than 20 years. Crabtree's granddaughter, Gail Larson, said her grandmother just celebrated her 97th birthday last week.

"Last Saturday she said, 'I'm going to make till as old as my mother was,' and that is 102. Does that sound like somebody that's planning on killing themselves?" Larson told ABC7.

Larson does not believe Crabtree's best friend would knowingly hurt her grandmother.

"If there was a suicide note, it was written by somebody else there on the scene, not the two ladies," she said.

"She went to church every day...I can't imagine her wanting to do something so terrible like that to herself and her family," said neighbor Amanda Neuman.

"They both trust in the Lord. They both have that peace in their lives and lived long, productive lives and they have always found fulfillment in life," said Maria Wenger, Crabtree's friend.

Metra said all warning equipment was operating when the car collided with the train.

Jenny Wern was one of 89 passengers on board. She felt the jolt.

"We were in shock. We were just hanging on," said Wern. "I was on the phone, and next thing I know, I see this car, the train hit the car, and the car was just being -- I just saw, you know, the flash, and then we were just holding on for dear life."

"All I could think is, 'Please don't tip over,' because you could see the front car was, like, tilted to the side a little bit," said passenger Noelle Cislo.

Cislo was also on the Metra train headed for the Loop Thursday. She described the frightening moments inside the train as it hit the car on the track.

"It was flat like a pancake. You could make it out a little bit. It was a blue car, but you really couldn't tell. It was hard to tell it was a car," Cislo said.

The train dragged the car for a quarter mile before coming to a stop. The impact also derailed the lead car of the seven-car train. Metra officials shut down the inbound tracks while they repaired damage to the rails. They are still trying to figure out how the car ended up in the path of the train.

"What we will do is download the event recorder, which is similar to the black box on an airplane. We will look at everything," said Metra spokesperson Judy Pardonnet.

Metra brought in cooling buses for stranded passengers. The wreckage shocked veteran firefighters.

"It is probably one of the worst hits I have seen on the tracks with a car in a long time," said Chief Terry Lipinski, Oak Forest Fire Department.

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