The Awful FRG Train-School Bus Accident

Metra train.

Metra train.

October 25, 1995–twenty years ago.

What an awful day.

That was the day of the Fox River Grove school bus-Metra train collusion.

Substitute driver unfamiliar with the route.

Mercifully, I remained blissfully ignorant of the morning crash until about noon.

Meanwhile, my brother-in-law, Dr. Joe Giangrasso, was treating the victims in Good Shepherd Hospital’s Emergency Room and my lab manager wife was running a reporter out of hospital bathroom where he were hiding.

The Fox River Grove tragedy was reported nationwide…for weeks.

Millions of people could identify with the District 155 Cary-Grove High School victims.

I introduced a resolution which I have put below this story.

The resolution designated the railroad crossing “Seven Angels Crossing,” using a Cary-Grove High Schooler’s terminology.

The Daily Herald printed it in full, prompting a local resident to give me a short course in angels.

He patiently told me that the dead children were not angels, that that was not Biblical.

Of course, upon reflection, I realized he was correct.

The memorial in front of the Fox River Grove Library.

The memorial in front of the Fox River Grove Library.

Before I got the call, I had envisioned a sign saying “Seven Angels Crossing” arching over the street where the accident occurred. Of course, that was left up to those in Fox River Grove.

Fox River Grove residents did what they always do.

They did what they could with what they had.

There is a rock with bronze plaques on two sides at the accident site.

There is also a small plaza in front of the library a block away built with donations and some legislative initiative money, otherwise, known as “pork,” from my allotment.

Seven died as a result of the Fox River Grove school bus-Metra train crash.

And there was the “God picture” taken by a man across the street.

It was on film and showed a shaft of light coming down from the sky onto the bus.

Examination by photo experts indicated that it was not something that would have ordinarily happened.

I remember someone telling me that the photographer was offered $100,000 by one of the tabloids for publication rights.

(A picture of someone holding the photo was published in the Daily Herald.)

He refused the offer, but was willing to give copies to anyone who requested one, which my wife did.

The families of the teens who were killed and injured were not monetarily motivated.

They settled for $27 million.

That was covered by the insurance which Crystal Lake District 47 and District 155 had, plus much too little from state government, whose decision to save parking places on the north side of Route 14 when the road was widened arguably caused the accident as much as anything else.

There were calls from the parents to lower the speed limit from 70 miles per hour to 50.

Village President Bill Yocius convinced me to introduce the bill.

I got it out of committee and worked the House floor.

Republican Leader Lee Daniels had his assistants approaching people to vote against the legislation.

One told me that Metra Board Chairman Jeff Ladd had told him he didn’t want the bill passed.

The opposition’s argument was two-fold:

  1. No where else in the country was there such a speed limit
  2. It wouldn’t have made any difference if the express train was going 50 MPH or 70 MPH

The assistant leader who told me clearly was sympathetic with my bill and just going through the motions.

I talked to all the reps. on the House floor, kneeling by their desks as other legislation was being considered.

Afterward, one family member or supporting village official standing in the rear gallery told me they could see minds on the Democratic Party side of the aisle changing as I moved from member to member.

I can’t remember what the vote was, but the bill passed.

Senator Dick Klemm put a several year time limit on the speed reduction and that’s how the bill passed.

I hope it helped in some small way to ease the immense pain inflicted on the seven families.

One of those killed, Jeffrey Clark, was set to receive his Eagle Scout Award the night of my big fundraiser.

I has the privilege of speaking to the several others who were to receive the Award the same nightand community members at the Methodist Church.

All I can remember saying was that they now had to do more for society than they would have otherwise in order to honor their friend.

Frankly, I’m amazed I could get that small thought out without breaking up.

If Illinois government had had its head screwed on straight, there would be an underpass somewhere in Fox River Grove.

Every town in McHenry County has an underpass or an overpass for the railroad line.  (Woodstock’s is only one lane and traffic was incredibly backed up a couple of weeks ago when the crossing gates were down after a lightning strike near the Square.)

The most recent underpass, in Cary, was built when Route 14 was widened.

Even now, the Council of Mayors could put such a Fox River Grove potential lifesaver on McHenry County’s priority list.

I hope the municipal leaders do so, even though cost would be immense.

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The Illinois House Joint Resolution follows:

House Joint Resolution 63

WHEREAS, This Body joins with the nation and the world in offering support and sympathy to the grieving citizens of Fox River Grove and the Cary-Grove High School; and

WHEREAS, The entire country was shocked at the tragedy that occurred on Wednesday, October 25, when the Cary-Grove High School bus was struck by a Metra train in Fox River Grove; and

WHEREAS, The accident claimed the lives of seven innocent students: Jeffrey J. Clark, Stephanie Lynn Fulham, Susana Guzman, Michael Bennett, Joseph Kaite, Shawn Robinson, and Tiffany Schneider; and

WHEREAS, Our heartfelt sympathy goes to the families of these young people; classmates and neighbors sign the praises of these bright lights, extinguished too soon; and

WHEREAS, We offer our moral support to the survivors of the accident and their families and friends and our empathy to the bus driver, Patricia Catencamp, an the train engineer, Ford Dotson, with the hope they all will find comfort and peace; and

WHEREAS, House Rule 3-6(a) generally prohibits memorial resolutions; the House has waived this rule and made an exception in order to allow the consideration and adoption of this resolution as an expression of our deep concern for all involved in this tragedy’ and

RESOLVED, BY THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE EIGHTY-NINTH GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, THE SENATE CONCURRING THEREIN, that we extend our deepest sympathy to the victims and families of the injured and deceased; and be it further

RESOLVED, That the railroad crossing in Fox River Grove be designated “Seven Angels Crossing” and that the Illinois Department of Transportation be directed to erect an appropriate marker in recognition of this designation and be it further

RESOLVED, That suitable copies of this resolution be presented to the parents of Jeffrey J. Clark, Stephanie Lynn Fulham, Susana Guzman, Michael Bennett, Joseph Kaite, Shawn Robinson, and Tiffany Schneider, to the principal of Cary-Grove High School on behalf of the students, to Patricia Calencamp, to Ford Dotson, and to the Secretary of the Illinois Department of Transporation.

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Please add your memories of the day and the aftermath.

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