(Charlotte, Michigan – April 26, 2013)
A 16-year-old sophomore student at Charlotte, MI High School was killed by a CNR freight train Friday afternoon shortly after 3:00 P.M. as he walked home from school along the Canadian National railroad tracks that cut through the heart of the Charlotte community in Eaton County, MI, southwest of Lansing, MI.
Matt Wagner, whom friends and family said walked the railroad track route almost every school day, was only a block away from his home on Clinton Street adjacent to the railroad when the CN freight train overtook and ran over him. The rail route carries a daily average of 20 trains, including Amtrak passenger trains, at a top allowable speed of 45 mph.
Cole Bogue, 16, who also lives near the CNR tracks, and said he and the victim were classmates and had known each other about five years, heard the accident and went to investigate. “There was a fireman on the other side of the tracks,” related Bogue. “I heard him say ‘over here, help!’” Looking beneath the stopped train, Bogue could see a body beneath the train, and recognized the red jacket he knew Wagner regularly wore.
“I hoped it wasn’t him,” lamented Bogue, “But I know he walks those tracks every day.” The victim’s friend went on to say “I don’t know what to feel. I can’t believe it.”
“Usually, there would be trains coming by, and he would get out of the way,” Bogue attested.
Law enforcement officers cordoned off the area around the tracks and the stopped train with “crime scene” tape, forcing friends and family to observe recovery and investigative efforts from the New Hope Community Church parking lot on Harris Street, away from the site of the tragedy.
“These things happen and it was an accident,” Charlotte Chief of Police Bill Callahan told news media representatives. “What I want to do now is express our grief to the family,” adding that “It’s one of those unfortunate things that there’s really no way to prevent it. In a town like this, the trains go by all the time.”
Charlotte Supt. Of Schools Nancy Hipskind announced that grief counselors would be available at the high school from 9:00 A.M. to noon Saturday morning in order to help students cope with the tragedy. “We’re not waiting for Monday,” explained Hipskind. “We’re getting the word out to students and staff,” she continued, adding that “When you lose a 16-year-old it is a terrible tragedy.”
Charlotte resident Jennifer Wendorf summed up the subdued mood that enveloped Charlotte, saying “Everyone in town who has kids is just sick right now.”