Christina Lopez was killed and four other people were injured in a crash with a box truck during the Wednesday morning rush hour.
In an update Thursday afternoon, the National Transportation Safety Board confirmed Lopez was ejected from a train window during the accident. Authorities said they are continuing to investigate why the truck was on the tracks.
The NTSB plans to release a preliminary report in two weeks after gathering footage from nearby video cameras as well as witness accounts. The complete investigation could take up to 18 months to complete.
"There's a lot information here, and we want to make sure that we get it right," NTSB vice chairman Bruce Landsberg said.
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Lopez's son-in-law, Jeff Klonowski, spoke at a news conference Thursday and said Lopez was a "tremendous" woman who was retired with three daughters
"We want to get the answers but also more importantly, we want to do our part to help so that no family has to do and go through this tragedy again," Klonowski said. "It didn't have to happen."
Lopez's family said they are still struggling to process the sudden loss.
"It's shock," Klonowski said. "I mean nobody expects this. It's a tragedy that nobody should endure."
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Lopez was killed while on her way to see her sister. It was a train ride from Downers Grove that she had taken often without ever thinking twice.
"It was a very routine morning for her, certainly," Klonowski said. "The kids will miss her, the family will miss her. It will be a difficult time but we'll get through it."
Truck catches fire after being hit by Metra train
Lopez lived in Chicago for most of her life, even working as a maintenance worker at ABC7 for a number of years. She moved to Downers Grove just a few years ago to spend more time with her three daughters and her grandkids.
"She was the glue to the family," Klonowski said.
Most of the extended family just spent Mother's Day together, a recent memory that now holds a lot more significance.
"Little did we know the blessing of that time we had together and we're very thankful for it," Klonowski said.
As the family continues to grieve, they're asking the village of Clarendon Hills for answers.
Residents have complained about the construction at that intersection and some believe that could have stalled the truck on those tracks, leading to this accident.
"From everything I've heard that was an accident waiting to happen," said Steven Jambois, a laywer representing Lopez's family. "The traffic because of the construction at that intersection was so slowed down that people were in harm's way quite frequently."
In a statement Thursday afternoon, the Village of Clarendon Hills said the train struck a "box truck that was stalled with some reports of engine trouble in the crossing."
In the meantime, the Lopez family is reminding others to not take life for granted.
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"We should all be thankful for the time that we have," Klonowski said. "Time is a commodity that you just cannot get more of."
The NTSB is now heading up the investigation after Lopez was killed and two other passengers and two BNSF employees were injured in the crash at the Prospect Avenue crossing. All injuries were described as minor.
"All of us on Metra and BNSF Railway are devastated by this death and we will be working hand-in-hand with the NTSB to find out what happened," Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said.
The incident made for a chaotic and scary morning for many commuters and people living in the downtown area.
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John Johnson heard the Metra train from his patio Wednesday morning.
"I heard him lay on the horn, not like a normal grade crossing, he was just laying on it, and then I heard the bang of the air being released from the emergency brake application," Johnson said. "We're given a lifetime -- how many years is it going to be? We don't know. I just feel bad for the victim and her family."
The crash appeared to have happened when a truck got stuck in the tracks as a Metra train approached Clarendon Hills.
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Video taken by witnesses on scene showed the initial chaos of the train blasting through the box truck before it burst into flames. Witness Tom Zurgot said he was in a car right behind the truck.
"All of a sudden I just saw the three guys in the truck jump out as fast as they can and then the train just hit it head-on at full speed," Zurgot said. "It was shocking ... you see videos of trains hitting cars all the time, but then you see it live and see a truck lifted in the air and pushed about 100 feet."
The men in that truck evacuated without getting hurt.
The explosion of the accident unfolded just feet away from commuters waiting at the Metra stop.
"I'm a little concerned for my kids and my family and friends that cross here all the time," Odd Joergenrud said. "I think they made it too narrow, and it's too easily that the traffic stops. And it's very easy to blame all the drivers that they are too close to each other, but when the crossing is moving as slowly as it is now, that creates situations."
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A Metra spokesperson said this is the second accident to kill a passenger in Metra history. The first fatal accident was in Chicago on Sept. 17, 2005, when two passengers died in a crash on the Rock Island District Line near the 47th Street Bridge.
"The cab car, which was leading the train, would have a front-facing camera on it and that will be downloaded," Gillis said.
It's unclear if the truck driver will be cited.
While the NTSB will remain at the crossing overnight and into the morning, Metra said the BNSF line will return to full weekday service Friday morning, including the Clarendon Hills stop.
Village of Clarendon Hills Statement on Prospect Crossing Train Accident
On May 11th, a train struck a box truck that was stalled with some reports of engine trouble in the crossing. Three passengers aboard the truck exited from the box truck and made it to safety. One passenger aboard the train was killed. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is conducting a full investigation with the assistance of Metra Police and Clarendon Hills Police.
Due to the active investigation site and damage to safety equipment, the crossing at Prospect is closed to pedestrian and car traffic. BNSF repair crews are onsite with repairs expected to be completed and tested tomorrow morning. The crossing then can reopen to traffic as soon as authorized by NTSB. NTSB is unable to provide us with an estimate at this time. Village staff is in round the clock meetings with NTSB, BNSF and Metra to facilitate the investigation and restore the downtown to a functional state, including possible measures such as reopening the crossing to pedestrians. The Village will provide an updated schedule as soon as it is available.
Crews were dispatched from Comcast to restore utility connection after being allowed access to the site this morning. Service may be spotty as they finalize repairs. Please contact Comcast if you are still experiencing outages.
Illinois Department of Transportation construction in the area is on pause. Initially, construction on the crossing was expected to be completed this week after delays due to weather and scheduling. The timeline for this completion is influx, however the Village is working with the relevant parties to find a way to expediate the improvements as well.
Thank you for your patience as all parties work through this process.
Statement from Metra CEO James Derwinski
Metra and all its employees would like to convey our condolences and deepest sympathies to the family of Christina Lopez, who tragically lost her life during yesterday's accident in Clarendon Hills. We consider My Metra's passengers to be a part of our family, and our family is grieving along with yours. We are committed to assisting the NTSB in its investigation so that Christina Lopez's family and the public have the answers they need at this difficult time.