Vigil remembers victims of train-car accident

 

A fork symbolizes better things to come

BY DANIEL KELLEY

News-Democrat

 

MARISSA --

A fork may seem like an odd gift for those attending a candlelight vigil remembering three victims in a train-car collision last November, yet the utensil is a powerful symbol of optimism for one of the victim's mothers.

More than 100 residents gathered last night in Marissa for a memorial service on the anniversary of a wreck that claimed the lives of Tina Porter, 43; her daughter Allaysa Porter, 13; and family friend Donna Jean "DJ" Calvert, 13. Family friend Julie Seymour, 12, was critically injured in the collision.

All the victims are from Marissa.

Ken and Donna Calvert, parents of DJ, gave those attending a fork as a symbol that "the best is yet to come" as seen in a poem the couple received shortly after their daughter's death.

The poem describes a terminally ill cancer patient asking her pastor to bury her with a fork in her right hand as a symbol that she is awaiting something better, like a child waiting for dessert.

"I cried all the way through the poem," Donna Calvert said. "When I learned that we were having a vigil, I wanted the poem read to ease not just my pain, but others' pain as well."

Residents held small candles illuminating a makeshift memorial near the site of the collision at the railroad crossing on South Main Street.

Ken Calvert said the family continues to struggle with feelings of grief and guilt a year after the accident.

"It's touch-and-go for everyone, especially my wife," Ken Calvert said. "Everybody has their demons."

Misty Calvert, DJ's older sister, has named her 6-month-old daughter Alayssa Jean in memory of Alayssa Porter and Donna Jean Calvert.

"DJ was very excited about being 'Aunt Deej,' and unfortunately you see where we are today," Ken Calvert said looking over the crowd.

Since the accident, Ken Calvert has become an advocate for the installation of safety equipment at the crossing and the reduction of train speed through the village.

The collision expedited an Illinois Commerce Commission's decision for the railroad crossings owner, Illinois Central Railroad Co., to install safety equipment.

The railroad has until next August to install lights, gates with a bell and a remote monitoring system at the railroad crossings on South Main Street and Finger Hill Road.

The gates' construction were originally part of a five-year construction plan to be completed in 2010.

The state's Grade Crossing Protection Fund will cover 95 percent of the project's cost and Illinois Central Railroad Co. will pay for the remaining 5 percent and future maintenance costs.

The safety upgrade on South Main Street will cost $144,000 and the safety upgrade on Finger Hill Road will cost $128,000.

Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 239-2526.

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