Woman, baby killed crossing in front of train

March 13, 2010 10:30 PM | 85 Comments | UPDATED STORY

A woman and a 1-year-old girl she was carrying were hit by a train this morning as the woman tried to cross railroad tracks at the North Chicago Metra station, authorities said.

The woman, identified as Blanca Villanueva-Sanchez, 34, was declared dead at the scene. The girl, identified as Maria Cruz, was declared dead about noon at Vista Medical Center East in Waukegan, said Lake County Coroner Richard Keller. The woman was carrying the girl when she was struck by the train, North Chicago fire officials said in a prepared statement.

Villanueva-Sanchez was the girl's godmother, police and Keller said.

Villanueva-Sanchez was crossing the tracks at the south end of the Metra Station, 1633 Lakeside Ave. in the north suburb, a little before 9 a.m. when the crash happened, said Metra spokeswoman Judy Pardonnet.

The woman crossed from the parking lot on the west side of the tracks to get to the station on the east side. She was just behind a group of other people, but earlier information that the child's father was among them was incorrect, said Metra Police Commander Don Carroll.

Witnesses told police warning bells and lights were going off as the train blew its horn when the woman crossed, just behind her husband and teenage daughter, said North Chicago Police Sgt. Sal Cecala

The two were struck by an inbound Metra commuter train, Pardonnet said. The train, which left Waukegan at 8:50 a.m., had not been scheduled to stop at the North Chicago station, Pardonnet said.

Villanueva-Sanchez lived in the 1500 block of Lincoln Avenue in North Chicago, and Maria lived in the 1500 block of Victoria Avenue, Keller said.

John Hill, 59, of Seymour, Ind., was riding the train downtown from Waukegan with his wife, Dana, and their three grandchildren when the accident happened, he said. The Hills' son-in-law, a Navy submariner, is stationed at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, and the Hills were taking their grandchildren to Chicago to go to American Girl Place, he said.

The Hills were riding on the upper level of the front car of the train when it approached the North Chicago station, and they realized the train was running express at full speed and not stopping there, Hill said. Suddenly, the train started braking and the engineer began blowing the train horn.

Then they heard the engineer cry out, "No, no, no -- Oh my God," and heard the train hit something, Hill said.

After the train stopped, the engineer waited until emergency crews arrived before exiting the cab, then walked out with two conductors without speaking to anyone on the train, Hill said. The train stayed put for a few hours as officials took photos and investigated, and after a while, another train pulled alongside and passengers were transferred, Hill said.

"We really feel for the families of both the victims and the engineer," said Hill, adding that it appeared the engineer did everything he could to stop the train before the accident happened.

The engineer and two conductors, who are employees of the Union Pacific Railroad, were being provided with peer support counseling because "it's a very tragic" incident for them also, said Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis.  

North Chicago and Metra police were investigating the crash. They likely would view video of the accident from the cab of the train and from the station on Monday to confirm witness accounts of the accident, Pardonnet said. Autopsies were scheduled for Sunday on the two victims, Keller said.

Both inbound and outbound trains on the Union Pacific/North Line did not move past the North Chicago station this morning for several hours because of the crash, according to Metra's Web site.

-- Liam Ford and Ralph Zahorik