The boy who loved bikes
From Jeff Long and Tim Kane in today's Chicago Tribune:
A 15-year-old boy who loved bicycles and computers was on his way to a fast-food restaurant to meet his mother and sisters when a commuter train struck and killed him in Fox River Grove, his father said Thursday.Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
Justin Glassmyer, a sophomore at Cary-Grove High School, was killed by an outbound Metra train about 6:10 p.m. Wednesday as he bicycled across railroad tracks where 11 years ago seven students on a bus from his school were killed.
As rain fell at the crossing Thursday afternoon, dozens of students left flowers, photos and hand-scrawled notes that had begun to blur. The boy's favorite CD, "Ten Thousand Fists" by the metal band Disturbed, sat alongside his second-favorite bicycle, which friends brought to the site.
"Coming here was hard," said Katrina Phillips, 17, a junior at Cary-Grove. "I needed proof that he was dead. He was the nicest kid. You wouldn't think that he would die."
As they gathered near the tracks--hugging, crying, and sometimes laughing about their friend--the students said the 1995 crash remains a sorrowful memory for many in the tiny village. Now the crossing's dangers have struck closer to home, they said.
The site is marked by a plaque, and the area is known as "Seven Angels Crossing." But investigators say the location is the only similarity.
"Right now, it's just a tragic accident," said Fox River Grove Police Chief Robert Polston.
Polston added that witnesses said the signals and crossing gates--improved after the 1995 crash--were working properly at the time of the crash.
An Illinois Commerce Commission inspector found that the gates, which block the street, were closed, spokeswoman Beth Bosch said.
But it's unclear whether the teen was crossing the tracks on the street or the sidewalk, which isn't blocked by the gate. Polston would only say that police are still investigating, along with state and federal officials.
Metra spokesman Patrick Waldron said the speed limit on that stretch of track was reduced from 70 m.p.h. to 50 m.p.h. after the 1995 crash. He said determining the train's speed Wednesday evening will be part of the investigation.
Seven students died and 24 were injured on Oct. 25, 1995. They were on their way to school when a train struck their bus at the same intersection at Algonquin Road near U.S. Highway 14.
That crash led to improvements across the country in the way traffic lights are linked to railroad crossing signals.
Although details remain sketchy about Wednesday's crash, Robert Glassmyer said it appears that his son and a friend were bicycling to a restaurant where Justin's sister works. They were to meet his sisters and mother for dinner, Glassmyer said in an emotional telephone interview from his home in Holiday, Fla.
"He was smart in school and smart around computers," said Glassmyer, as he prepared to return to Illinois to help with funeral arrangements. "And, like me, mechanically inclined. I'm into cars. I'm a mechanic. He always liked tearing apart his bike."
Glassmyer said Justin grew up in Palatine before moving to Fox River Grove. He has two sisters, 16 and 18, and a stepsister, 10.
The oldest daughter visited Glassmyer for about two weeks this month. Justin had wanted to make the trip but couldn't because of school. His father had hoped Justin could visit during spring vacation.
"I was going to take him to the shop," Glassmyer said. "Teach him a little bit more about cars."
The owner of the Fox Pantry convenience store that faces the accident scene across U.S. 14 said the boy often visited with family members.
"He came in here to buy doughnuts," said Zareen Shah, calling the family "very nice people."
Shah said an employee who saw the accident said Justin Glassmyer was one of two kids on bicycles. The first made it through the intersection, the employee told Shah.
Phillips recalled the teenager's personality.
"He was smiling all the time," Phillips said. "His favorite phrase was, `You're done!' If you said something stupid, he was like, `You're done!'
"He was the sweetest kid."