Accident a tragic reminder of crossing danger



By Tara Fasol, The Southern

Monday, January 21, 2008 10:58 PM CST

WEST FRANKFORT - Above the cash register at Elsie's Tavern in Orient hangs the photo of a young man with a head-turning smile.

Nearly 58 years after that photo was taken, the charm of Harry Yates will be remembered.

Yates, 92, of West Frankfort was killed in a train-car accident Sunday night.

A train struck his vehicle at the Oak Street railroad crossing and pushed the car to the Cleveland Street crossing several blocks away.


"He built this place," said Sara Johnson, owner of Elsie's. "Him and a bunch of his friends built it in a week ?"

With his determination and hard work marked by every nail, Yates was a faithful patron after selling the bar.

"He liked to tell jokes," Johnson said. "He liked women. He thought women were just beautiful ? all women."

Many people talking about Yates told the same story of a man who turned heads and captured hearts.

Firefighter Dave Chambers of West Frankfort responded to the scene of the accident Sunday night and bade farewell to a longtime friend.

"He always told me that my grandma was the prettiest girl in town," he said. "He said it took him 70 years to catch her. I was so close to him. He thought of me as a grandson and it meant a lot to me."

Chambers said Yates taught him how to fish, one of his favorite pastimes, and together they shared stories.

"His big joke was that he had a little bit of change in a bank account when the stock market crashed and he lost 15 cents," he said.

Yates had recently celebrated his 92 birthday party and been honored for 70 years of membership to the West Frankfort Elks Club.

"Harry has been here for every event and function we've had," said Mike Lee, exulted ruler of the Elks. "We danced and loved the ladies. He loved to waltz."

The crossing where Yates was killed does not have lights or crossing gates and has been the center of discussion between the city and state officials since 2006.

Recently, an agreement was reached in which the city will receive upgrades to several crossings, including Oak Street.

"We got it funded and it's not going to cost us a dime," Mayor Marion Presley said. "But I knew something like this was going to happen before they got it done. It's a shame it takes a tragedy to get anybody to move on anything."

Officials with the ICC could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.

"Saturday evening I spent my night with Harry," Lee said. "The last thing he said to me was 'Mike, I'm going to spend my 100th birthday here at the Elks.'" / 351-5824