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Grieving Process Continues for Family of Those Killed in Vandalia Rail Crossing Tragedy

(Greenville, Illinois – November 1, 2014)

As CSX and Illinois State Police continued their investigations into the Halloween Eve tragedy that took the lives of his wife and three of his children, a grieving Greenville, IL father and widower was trying to deal with “how to bury four people in one day,” according to the deceased mother’s cousin and best friend, Annie Anna.

Crystal Anna and four of her five children were crossing the railroad tracks in the family’s Chrysler Pacifica SUV as it inched its way through traffic headed for Vandalia, Illinois’ Lions Club’s Halloween Parade Thursday, October 30. As she was already crossing the tracks the railroad crossing lights began to flash and the crossing gate lowered, trapping her vehicle on the tracks. Crystal tried to get the SUV out of harm’s way, but the train hit the vulnerable vehicle, killing Alyssa Sewell, 18, and her half-siblings Drake Wisnasky, 13, and Abby Wisnasky, 10, instantly.

Annie Anna disputed claims by railroad and law enforcement investigators that Crystal drove around lowered crossing gates in an attempt to beat the train. “There was a car behind her, and a car in front of her,” said Annie. “She did try to reverse it, but the guard rails came down, and the train came through. She was so cautious that I know she would not have tried to beat that train.” The accounts of several eyewitnesses to the tragedy agreed with Annie’s assessment of the tragedy.

Crystal Anna was critically injured and in a coma, while her nine-year-old son, Dylan Wisnasky, 9, was also seriously injured but conscious, and both mother and son were flown to St. Louis University Hospital in St. Louis, MO., where Crystal, still in a coma but died at 12:42 P.M., CDT Friday when her life support was removed at her remaining family’s request.

“I told her how much I loved her, and what a great mother she was, and how I’ve always looked up to her,” said Annie Anna, as the woman with whom she had shared a life as relatives, mothers and best of friends breathed her last breaths, surrounded by her surviving family, including husband, Scott Wisnasky and eldest son, Dalton Wisnasky, 14, a freshman at Greenville High School.

Still unaware of his mother’s condition and eventual passing was Dylan, hospitalized at the same medical center for treatment of injuries doctors hope he will survive. Annie is apprehensive about how he will react once he is told of his mother’s and siblings’ demise.

“He’s a momma’s boy,” Annie told KSDK, Channel 5, St. Louis, reporter Farrah Fazal. “He would run to the bus stop in the morning, run back and give her a kiss, and run back to the bus stop and blow her kisses.”

Meanwhile, Scott Wisnasky is having to deal with monumental funeral expenses – estimated to be at least $30,000 – replacement of the family car, and medical expenses for his deceased wife’s treatment as well as for the lengthy recovery and massive medical bills Dylan’s care will accumulate. That doesn’t even begin to address the unthinkable loss of his wife and the companionship of his three children as they matured.

But the community is not allowing the Wisnasky family to “go it alone”. Crystal’s friend, Ria Schumaker has established a “GoFundMe” account to gather donations for the family’s funeral and medical expenses, and Vandalia Junior High School, which was already scheduled to play Greenville on Thursday night, November  13, officials announced that all the proceeds of the game, as well as of a raffle for three $50 gift cards donated by the Casey’s General Stores of both Greenville and Vandalia, would go to the Wisnasky’s. Representatives from the stores were at the game, where the drawing drew $412, and where all three winners graciously donated their prizes back to the Wisnasky family.

On Friday, VJHS Principal Brian Kern announced that the gate for the Thursday night seventh and eighth grade games, as well as free-will donations from fans, amounted to $2,817. Kern told Vandalia News Radio WPMB-AM/WKRV-FM of his pride in the Vandalia community and schools for stepping up to help a family in need. “Regardless of the outcomes of the two games played, the night was a ‘win’ because of the care and support shown by the communities,” he said.

Hundreds of classmates and community residents attended visitation for the victims at First Christian Church in Greenville Thursday evening, November 6, and many more were at the graveside services held at Tisdale Cemetery near Sorento, IL the following day.

Now the surviving family must try to carry on in the face of the loss of their loved ones.