KristensLaw Investigates Berwyn Deaths

KristensLaw investigator Helen Byrd along with T.E.A.R.S. President Ray Zukowski visited the crash site in Berwyn yesterday where 2 men were killed wednesday afternoon. Thomas Buckingham 37 of Royalton, IL. and passenger Donald Watz 41 of Cicero died when Buckingham's Kia Spectra sedan was struck by a westbound Amtrak passenger train. The vehicle was pushed forward some 1500 feet through a cyclone fence before finally coming to a halt near George's Tavern at 6741 Stanley avenue.

Berwyn station

Vehicle impaled

Cyclone fence posts near scene

Patrons from the tavern rushed to the wreckage where they discovered both men wrapped and impaled by the metal fence posts. Tavern proprietor Paul Drakes who has seen his share of train related fatalities in this area acknowledged the gruesome site. "Nobody needs to see this, you don't want to see this. Lucky no one else was hurt(killed)."

Georges Tavern

Paul Drakes

The two men were at a stop pointing north on east avenue awaiting an eastbound Metra train to clear their path. The gates were down but did not extend across the roadway on either side of the tracks. After the Metra train cleared we concluded the driver, Buckingham then attempted to drive north over the tracks unaware that a second westbound train (Amtrak) was barreling down on him. Witnesses report that the gates stayed down but could not prevent traffic from driving around them. An error in judgement? Probably, but let's not judge too hastily. Our investigation reveals some very interesting points.

The Accident impact location. East Ave and Stanley Ave.

Pedestrian gate only

1. This Berwyn business district is a well populated, high activity area in the heart of the city.

Gates do not extend to prevent vehicles from entering

2. Safety gates extend completely over the sidewalks protecting pedestrians on either sides of the tracks but fail to secure the roadways.

3. This stretch of tracks has produced countless fatalities over the years.

4. This area has 3 sets of rails and is heavily traveled by Metra, Amtrak and Burlington Northern trains. In the 50 minutes we spent at the accident impact location 10 trains passed, including the 2:15pm Amtrak right on schedule heading west at approximately 70mph.

5. During our visit we observed 3 vehicles drive around lowered gates or slip under them just in time. At one point the gates went down only to go back up a few minutes later without a train present.

Gates but no train visible

First instinct is to beat the gates

6. Local resident Chris Byrnes tells us about the new signals installed a few years ago in this area. " The 'new' signals have been rife with malfunctions. Several times in these past few months, crossings from Ridgeland to Harlem have been stuck in the down position, sometimes for an hour or more, and motorists have gone around. Gates come down, go up, come down, for no apparent reason. Mortorists and pedestrians have become inured to this and have become careless, ignoring the gates." Read the entire Byrnes Memo by clicking here.

7. Railroad signal houses are prominent but poorly placed and and obstruct the view of motorists approaching these tracks, including the accident impact location at East and Stanley avenues.

Looking north on East ave and signal houses on right

Slipping under or driving around gates has become human nature. No one wants their trip delayed by a freight train or the dreaded malfuctioning railroad equipment. KristensLaw classifies these high speed non stop train traffic locations as high risk areas. They have taken lives and will continue to take lives until the neccessary safety procedures are implemented(installed). Safety gates need to extend fully over the roadway and regularly maintained to be sure they are functioning properly. It is extremely rare to read of any motorist killed that drove through a barricade in some haste to reach his or her destination. In todays society of technology and computers we try our hardest to eliminate the smallest chance of human error in so many aspects of every day life. The same concepts need to be applied here especially when the ultimate price could be paid. Governments need to hold railroads, states and cities accountable. Safety gates need to dominate the roadway's railroad safety crossings for both automobiles and pedestrians. Extra sets of warning lights should be added to signal as to a second train in the crossing area.Unfortunately the wealthy railroads point at the costs of adding the safety equipment and Governments continue to look the other way.

Steger site where Marielle Anderson was killed

Pedestrian gates in Berwyn, IL

In comparing the Berwyn accident scene with the RR crossing in Steger, IL we noticed some glaring similarities along with one difference that proved very disturbing. Both crossings were located in town with very heavy automobile and pedestrian traffic. The Steger location however, lacked and still lacks the safety pedestrian crossing that would have saved young Marielle Anderson's life. Railroad Safety Reform Activist Zukowski added "whoever is flipping the coin on which crossings are in need of pedestrian safety gates needs to develop new strategies".


T.E.A.R.S., KristensLaw, Kristens family and growing support groups everywhere express their deepest sympathies to the Buckingham and Watz Families.

Activists Supporting Kristens Law feel these deaths should have been prevented. Please report high risk areas to

If you would like to help the Buckingham and Watz Families click here

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