25 Years Later, Memory Of Teens Killed In Bus Crash Lives On

I will never forget the sick feeling in my stomach when I heard the words, ” a train collided with a school bus in Fox River Grove today”. I know two families who lost a child that day and with each passing year, I discover more and more connections I have with the families.

I have attached an article about the incident that was published in Crystal Lake – Cary Patch over the weekend. A gentle warning, the pictures can be hard to look at.

Seven Cary-Grove High School students were killed when a Metra train collided with a school bus stopped on the track on Oct. 25, 1995.

By Amie Schaenzer, Patch StaffVerified Patch Staff Badge
Oct 25, 2020 7:00 am CT|Updated Oct 26, 2020 9:14 am CT
Students from Cary-Grove High School grieve Thursday, Oct. 26, 1995, while visiting the memorial at the train crossing in Fox River Grove, Ill., where fellow students were killed Wednesday when a commuter train slammed into their school bus.
Students from Cary-Grove High School grieve Thursday, Oct. 26, 1995, while visiting the memorial at the train crossing in Fox River Grove, Ill., where fellow students were killed Wednesday when a commuter train slammed into their school bus. (AP Photo/Michael S. Green)

FOX RIVER GROVE, IL — Sunday marked the 25th anniversary of a fatal school bus crash that claimed the lives of seven Cary-Grove High School students.

The crash has had a lasting affect on the emergency personnel who rushed to the scene of the crash, the survivors, and, of course, the family and friends of loved ones killed when a Metra train slammed into the back of the bus in Fox River Grove on Oct. 25, 1995.

Most in McHenry County and Chicago area already know the details surrounding the tragic day and the crash, which ended up being one of the worst school bus collisions in the U.S. A National Traffic Safety Board investigation followed the tragedy, as did new protocols and policies surrounding rail crossings. Today, there are four crossings listed as “forbidden” for District 155 drivers to cross over, including the crash site at the Metra tracks and Algonquin Road—known by many in the area as Seven Angels Crossing, D155 officials told Patch.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Beth A. Keiser

The Crash: ‘It Was The Most Violent, Abrupt Thing You Can Imagine’

At about 7:10 a.m. on Oct. 25, 1995, a substitute school bus driver who was unfamiliar with the route was driving the bus when it over the train tracks on Algonquin Road and stopped at a red light at Northwest Highway. She did not realize the last 3.5 feet of the school bus were hanging over the tracks.

The guardrail went down on the back of the bus, a Metra engineer blared his horn and those sitting in the back of the bus tried to rush to the front but it was too late. The train slammed into the bus going 60 mph.Subscribe

All of those killed — Jeffrey Clark, 16; Stephanie Fulham, 15; Susanna Guzman, 18; Michael Hoffman, 14; Joe Kalte, 16; Shawn Robinson, 14; and Tiffany Schneider, 15 — were reportedly sitting in the last four rows.

Brian Marino, then a freshman at Cary-Grove High School, boarded the bus that day with his identical twin brother, Michael, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. He’d planned to head toward the back of the bus but got pulled into a front seat by two friends. His brother picked a seat further back in the bus.

He remembers the feeling when the train hit the bus, snapping his head around violently; the smell of burning wire and seeing his brother slumped over a seat, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. He wasn’t breathing, and Brian laid his twin’s head on his lap, and yelled, “Breathe! Breathe! Thankfully, he did. Today, the brothers are both firefighters/paramedics in Crystal Lake.

“It was the most violent, abrupt thing you can imagine,” Marino told the Chicago Sun-Times as he recalled the Oct. 25, 1995, collision. “It’s like when you crest on a roller coaster, and you’re going down, and your breath is taken away.”

Firefighters and paramedics responding have recalled over the years the horrific scenes they were met with. Most notably, mothers praying and begging that their child was not among the dead.

Over the next week, there were seven funerals. Bill Kopanda, the vice principal at Cary-Grove at the time, told the Northwest Herald that Oct. 25, 1995, was the worst day of his life. Following the tragedy, the community came together and everyone helped support each other as they dealt with their grief.

“The line between students and teacher became blurred because everyone was helping each other,” he told the Northwest Herald in 2010. “I really think it’s a strength [and] it just exists as part of the culture [now].”

In the years following the crash, the bus route the collision occurred on had lower ridership, Shannon Podzimek, director of communications for Community High School District 155, told Patch.

The crash sparked reforms including safer bus routes, better driver training, brighter lights on trains and more authority for the Illinois Commerce Commission to monitor crossings as well as the modification or installation of thousands of interconnects, which provides train information to traffic signals so vehicles can get off the train tracks, the Daily Herald reports.

The National Transportation Safety Board investigated the collision and ruled one of the factors contributing to the crash was an inadequate school district routing and hazard marking system. The Safety Board noted that the substitute school bus driver operating the bus that day was unaware of the hazard at the highway-railroad crossing because “the methods employed by the school district to identify and evaluate route hazards were ineffective.”

The bus driver told investigators the traffic light at the crossing never turned green, she didn’t hear any warnings from students and never saw or heard the train, according to the Associated Press. In 1995, National Transportation Safety Board member John Goglia told AP that even if the driver had seen the train, she would have had little time to react.

The bus driver, who has never publicly spoken about the crash, told investigators she thought she had “plenty of room” and said, “It never entered my mind that there wasn’t enough room for that bus to fit,” according to the NTSB report on the crash.

Since the crash, District 155 implemented additional training for bus drivers and substitute drivers on railroad crossings and mirror use.

The NTSB identified four forbidden railroad crossings within the district that have poor sight lines, Podzimek said. Those include Seven Angels Crossing at Algonquin Road in Fox River Grove, Main Street in Cary, Three Oaks Road in Cary and Walkup Road in Crystal Lake.

“During training with our drivers and substitute drivers, they are told not to cross those railroad crossings,” Podzimek said.

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