The Clarendon Hills Metra crash victim is identified as Christina Lopez, 72, of Downers Grove; BNSF train schedule returns to normal on Friday

CLARENDON HILLS, Ill. (WLS) – The family of a 72-year-old Downers Grove woman has called the Metra crash in Clarendon Hills that killed her “preventable.”

Christina Lopez was killed and four others were injured in a crash with a van truck during Wednesday morning rush hour.

In an update Thursday afternoon, the National Transportation Safety Board confirmed Lopez was ejected from a train window during the crash. Authorities said they are continuing to investigate why the truck was on the tracks.

The NTSB plans to release a preliminary report in two weeks after collecting footage from nearby video cameras as well as witness testimony. The full investigation could take up to 18 months.

“There’s a lot of information here, and we want to make sure we understand it correctly,” NTSB Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg said.

NTSB provides update on Metra crash investigation

Lopez’s son-in-law, Jeff Klonowski, spoke at a press conference on Thursday and said Lopez was a “great” woman. She was retired with three daughters and traveling to visit family when she was killed.

“We want to get the answers, but also more importantly, we want to do our part to help so that no family has to relive this tragedy,” Klonowski said. “It didn’t have to happen.”

Lopez’s family said they are still struggling to deal with the sudden loss.

“It’s a shock,” Klonowski said. “I mean no one expects this. It’s a tragedy no one should have to endure.”

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Lopez was killed on her way to her sister’s house. It was a train ride from Downers Grove that she often took without ever thinking twice.

“It was definitely a very routine morning for her,” Klonowski said. “The children will miss her, the family will miss her. It will be a difficult time but we will get through it.”

Truck catches fire after being hit by Metra train

Christina Lopez has lived in Chicago for most of her life, even working as a maintenance worker at ABC7 for several years. She moved to Downers Grove just a few years ago to spend more time with her three daughters and grandchildren.

“She was the glue of the family,” Klonowski said.

Most extended family members have just spent Mother’s Day together, a recent memory that now holds much more significance.

“We didn’t know the blessing of this time we spent together and we are very grateful for that,” Klonowski said.

As the family continues to grieve, they demand answers from the village of Clarendon Hills.

Residents have complained about the construction at this intersection and some believe it could have blocked the truck in these lanes, leading to this accident.

“From everything I heard it was an imminent accident,” said Steven Jambois, an attorney representing Lopez’s family. “Traffic due to construction at this intersection was so slow that people were in danger quite often.”

In a statement Thursday afternoon, the Village of Clarendon Hills said the train struck a “box truck that was stuck with reports of engine trouble at the crossing.”

“There’s quite a bit of damage on the right side of the train where the rear of the truck hit, tremendous force there,” Landsberg said. “Obviously that force translated into the victim being propelled out the window.”

In the meantime, the Lopez family reminds others not to take life for granted.

Woman killed in Metra crash was ‘sticky to family’

“We should all be grateful for the time we have,” Klonowski said. “Time is a commodity that you simply cannot get more of.”

The NTSB is now leading the investigation after Lopez was killed and two other passengers and two BNSF employees were injured in the crash at the Prospect Avenue crossing. All injuries were described as minor.

“All of us on Metra and BNSF Railway are devastated by this death and will work hand-in-hand with the NTSB to find out what happened,” Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said.

The incident created a chaotic and scary morning for many commuters and people living downtown.

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John Johnson heard the Metra train from his terrace on Wednesday morning.

“I heard him lay on the horn, not like a normal level crossing, he was just laying on it, then I heard the sound of air being released by the application of the emergency brake,” Johnson said. “We are being given a life – how many years is that going to last? We don’t know. I just feel bad for the victim and his family.”

The crash appears to have happened when a truck got stuck in the tracks as a Metra train approached Clarendon Hills.

Metra officials provide update on fatal crash

Video taken by witnesses at the scene showed the initial chaos of the train driving through the truck before it burst into flames. Witness Tom Zurgot said he was in a car directly behind the truck.

“All of a sudden I saw the three guys in the truck jumping as fast as they could and then the train slammed into it at full speed,” Zurgot said. “It was shocking…you see videos of trains hitting cars all the time, but then you see it live and see a truck lifted into the air and pushed about 100 feet.”

The men in that truck evacuated uninjured.

The crash blast took place within yards of commuters waiting at the Metra stop.

“I’m a bit worried about my children, my family and my friends who cross here all the time,” said Odd Joergenrud. “I think they’ve made it too narrow, and it’s too easy for traffic to stop. And it’s very easy to blame all the drivers that they’re too close together, but when the crossing is moving as slowly as it is now, it creates situations.”

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A Metra spokesperson said it was the second fatal passenger accident in Metra’s history. The first fatal accident occurred in Chicago on September 17, 2005, when two passengers died in an accident on the Rock Island District Line near the 47th Street Bridge.

“The taxi, which was leading the train, would have a front camera on it and that will be uploaded,” Gillis said.

It is unclear whether the truck driver will be cited.

While the NTSB will remain at the crossing overnight and into the morning, Metra said the BNSF line will return to full weekday service Friday morning, including the Clarendon Hills stop.

Statement from the Village of Clarendon Hills on the train crash at Prospect Crossing

On May 11, a train hit a box truck that had broken down and engine problems were reported at the crossing. Three passengers aboard the truck got out of the van and made their way to safety. A passenger on the train was killed. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is conducting a thorough investigation with the assistance of Metra Police and Clarendon Hills Police.

Due to the active survey site and damage to safety equipment, the Prospect crossing is closed to pedestrian and vehicular traffic. BNSF repair crews are on site and repairs should be completed and tested tomorrow morning. The crossing can then reopen to traffic as soon as it is cleared by the NTSB. The NTSB is unable to provide us with an estimate at this time. Village staff are in round-the-clock meetings with the NTSB, BNSF and Metra to aid in the investigation and return the downtown to a functional state, including possible measures such as reopening the crosswalk to pedestrians. The Village will provide an updated schedule as it becomes available.

Crews were dispatched from Comcast to restore connection to utilities after being granted access to the site this morning. Service can be spotty as they finalize repairs. Please contact Comcast if you are still experiencing outages.

Illinois Department of Transportation construction in the area is on pause. Initially, construction of the crossing was expected to be completed this week after weather and schedule delays. The timeline for this completion is influx, but the Village is working with relevant parties to find a way to accelerate improvements as well.
Thank you for your patience as all parties work through this process.

Statement from Metra CEO James Derwinski

Metra and all of its employees wish to convey our condolences and deepest condolences to the family of Christina Lopez, who tragically lost her life in yesterday’s crash in Clarendon Hills. We consider My Metra passengers to be part of our family, and our family mourns with yours. We are committed to assisting the NTSB in its investigation so that Christina Lopez’s family and the public have the answers they need during this difficult time.

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