After fatal Cary crash, area officials urge caution near train crossings

After a 53-year-old woman was struck and killed Tuesday morning while walking across the Metra train tracks in downtown Cary, area officials reminded residents of the dangers in crossing Metra tracks in spite of warning lights and gates.

“I just hope that people are aware of their surroundings when they are near the railroad tracks,” Cary Police Chief Patrick Finlon said.

He urged people to obey all of the laws related to trains because “they really are safety-oriented.”

Before becoming chief in Cary, Finlon worked in Lake Zurich, where the concern on the tracks was freight trains. Freight trains move slower than commuter trains, which is something people need to be aware of, he said.

“Commuter trains are faster and more frequent,” Finlon added.

As for Tuesday’s crash, “it was an unfortunate accident,” Finlon said. “All the warning devices were flashing, and the gates were working. The individual who was struck disregarded them and walked into the path of a train.”

Finlon said it is a crime to illegally cross the tracks.

Locally, it is a violation of the trespassing ordinance and can carry fines of $100 to $200.

According to state code, the act is a petty criminal offense carrying fines of $500 to $1,000 or more, as well as a possible community service sentence. It also can result in the suspension of a person’s driver’s license, Finlon said.

The McHenry County coroner identified the woman killed Tuesday as Cynthia Bras Toriumi of Cary.

There have been 16 deaths so far this year on Metra train tracks, including Tuesday’s, a Metra spokesperson said. Eight of them were believed to be accidents, while the rest were deemed suicides or the cause was undetermined, the spokesperson said.

In Crystal Lake, where there are two train stations, Police Chief Jim Black said his community tries to remain proactive in encouraging train safety.

One such event is Rail Safety Week, which runs Sept. 22 through 28. Police will be handing out materials at the train stations explaining the dangers of crossing the tracks when the gates are down and lights are flashing.

In his time with Crystal Lake, Black said there have been two train-related deaths, one in 2015 and 2017. He said they were deemed suicides.

Black said the campaigns seem to have been successful in warning pedestrians to be alert and follow all safety measures.

Fines are another way to encourage safe behaviors near the tracks, officials said.

“Last year, we wrote 63 citations for pedestrians crossing the tracks when the gates were down, and issued 27 warning citations during that time. This year, to date, we have issued 46 citations with 13 warnings,” Black said. “Some just think they are running late, they think they can run around the gates and catch their Metra.”

Other times, he said, people are distracted by their electronics and phones.

“They are so plugged into their phones and are just not paying attention,” Black said.

As a final word on the matter, Black advised, “Don’t do it – the train wins.”

Fox River Grove Fire Protection District Chief Robert Kreher was with the department Oct. 25, 1995, when a school bus was hit by a train and seven children were killed. On that same date in 2006, a boy on a bicycle was hit and killed on the tracks, he said.

The best warning Kreher could offer pedestrians and those driving is “never go around downed gates.”

“Trains don’t leave the tracks normally, so when there is an accident, it’s usually because people went in the path of the train,” he said.

Kreher said it is common to see people running to catch the train, and they are “willing to chance it.”

“They go around the gates, sometimes in cars or on foot,” he said. “You are better off leaving your house five minutes earlier so you don’t put yourself in that position. We still see it occasionally in the mornings. They hear the bells and see the gates start coming down, and don’t want to miss their train, and they go. … You’ve got to remember what the risk is. Is it really worth it?”