Mending fences

Kristen Bowen's family, friends laud progress
made one year after girl's death on tracks

By Wilson Brown

Staff writer

A year ago, Ray Zukowski said, there weren't enough warning signs or barriers along the railroad tracks in Villa Park and Lombard.

There wasn't much to stop a Jefferson Middle School or Willowbrook High student from taking a shortcut along the tracks.

And a year ago this month, there wasn't a special railroad safety task force consisting of state officials, Union Pacific chiefs and law enforcement representatives.

All that changed, however, after parents in the neighboring towns took on the issue after Zukowski's 14-year-old daughter, Kristen Bowen of Lombard, died while crossing the tracks Feb. 11, 2006.

Kristen, a Willowbrook High School student, was struck and killed by a freight train while taking a shortcut along the tracks about a quarter mile from Addison Road.

There was no fence where Kristen crossed.

Since that time, though, Villa Park began placing new warning signs near the tracks and both Lombard and Villa Park purchased thousands of feet of wrought iron fencing now being erected along the tracks and the four cul-de-sacs in Lombard that dead end there.

"The railroad safety fencing being installed along the east/west railway represents a huge victory for (Targeting Education Awareness & Railroad Safety) and Kristen's Law supporters," Zukowski said.

After the accident, Zukowski went to work starting up TEARS and a Web site dedicated to Kristen and advocating solid concrete fencing near schools and parks in Villa Park and Lombard along with Villa Park Trustee John Davis.

"Through her loss we have learned to come together as a community and do what others say would never happen. We are having fencing put up along the tracks at two communities," Davis said in a written statement on behalf of Kristen's family inviting community members to a remembrance ceremony this weekend.

"We're going to fix it all up and have it looking good again," said Helen Byrd, Zukowski's girlfriend, who helped coordinate the ceremony. "I think she would've loved the fence."

Wilson Brown's e-mail address is:
wbrown@libertysuburban.com