(December 2, 2014)
As many of his classmates looked on in horror, an 11-year-old suburban Chicago fifth grader was run over by a Chicago Metra commuter train, severing one of his legs, as he unsuccessfully attempted to catch his departing school bus at about 7:30 A.M., CST Tuesday morning in Blue Island, IL.
Alexander Zepeda was crossing on the sidewalk at the intersection which has lights and gates to govern vehicular traffic, but lacks gates to prevent pedestrians from crossing at that point. The youngster was rushed to Christ Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, IL where doctors amputated his injured left leg below the knee. Alex is a student at Burr Oak School in Calumet Park, IL.
The tragedy occurred at the Winchester Road crossing of the former Illinois Central electrified line now owned by the Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Rail Corporation. According to Federal Railroad Administration records, 45 passenger trains cross there daily at a top allowable speed of 30 mph.
Witnesses told Chicago CBS Channel 2 Reporter Chris Martinez that they considered the crossing dangerous, and the station’s cameras recorded a number of children and adults running across the tracks in front of approaching trains the very next day.
Among those who witnessed the accident was the victim’s sister, Jasmine Zepeda, who related that “His bus had come and his bus was leaving. The bus usually waits for him. He (the driver) stops or goes back for him (Zepeda) to get on the bus. But this time, the bus driver didn’t stop, so he (her brother) ran.”
An adult witness, Patricia Valadez, told Chicago Tribune reporters Carlos Sandovi and Rosemary Regina Sobol Wednesday that she had trouble sleeping Tuesday night as she pictured the conscious but panicking young victim lying in the street screaming for help and saying “My leg hurts.”
Valadez said she went to the boy’s aid, but that he seemed to be in shock and could not tell her his name or anything.
Veteran law enforcement official Michael Cornell, deputy chief of the Blue Island Police Dept., said “I’ve never seen anything like this and I’ve been here 24 years. It breaks my heart.”
“He hasn’t talked about it,” said Jasmine Zepeda Wednesday after visiting her brother at the hospital Tuesday night. “I don’t think he knows his leg was cut off, but eventually he’ll feel it.”
“What does a child see?” asked the injured boy’s father, Rafael Zepeda, 46, a construction worker who has been out of work since injuring his back earlier this past year. “They don’t understand things. He’s 11 years old, so he doesn’t really comprehend what it (the injury) means.”
Mrs. Zepeda, 37, cleans hotel rooms on a part-time basis, and is suffering tremendous mental anguish because she was getting ready to drive Alex to school before he dashed out to try and catch his bus.
Meanwhile, the five other members of the Zepeda family are aware that Christmas will be absent from their household this year, as Alex is not expected to be released to return home until well after the holiday.
“About 10 years ago, Victor Olivera died in a similar accident,” reported Channel 2’s Martinez. “In 2004 (actually, May 25, 2004) he rode his bike through a pedestrian crossing in Glenview that didn’t have a gate on the sidewalk as well, and was hit by a Metra train. The village later installed a gate.”