(Ravenna, Ohio – October 8, 2013)
Hundreds of fellow students, townspeople and school and community officials gathered last Monday night at the Ravenna, OH Church of the Nazarene to share their sorrow and memories of Sierra Thornton, who was killed just before 6:00 P.M. Sunday afternoon when she took her father and four sisters on a drive in the family’s SUV to utilize her recently-received learner’s permit. The family outing got only to the crossing of their subdivision’s entrance road and the dangerous, unguarded crossing of Norfolk Southern Railroad tracks, just a few hundred feet from their home, when a southbound NS freight train crushed the eastbound SUV, killing the young driver, who was exactly one month shy of her 16th birthday, and injuring her father and four siblings.
Chief Investigator Tom Decker of the Portage County Coroner’s Office said an autopsy performed on the victim Monday revealed that she died instantly upon impact with the train, one of a daily average of 62 trains that traverse the crossing at a top speed of 60 mph. She and her passengers were all properly restrained with seat belts.
The private crossing, which connects residents of the small cluster of homes, is unprotected by any form of active devices such as flashing lights, bells or crossing gates, which could have prevented this accident.
One of the mourners present at the Monday night service was Ravenna Township Trustee Patsy Artz, who said that, although there had been no issue with the crossing before the tragedy, predicted that its status would be a “topic of discussion” at the township governing panel’s upcoming October 15 meeting.
As the crowd of supporters told stories of happiness and sadness, the mood was frequently broken by the sound of trains passing near the church. “I am not sure any of us will hear that sound again without remembering Sierra and her family,” remarked Pastor Tracy Ogden. She added that “I tell you what. I know there’s a lot to be thankful for. I, for one, am praising the Lord that there are five survivors of this accident.”
Amongst hundreds of candles carried by mourners, speakers offered, one by one, their memories of their fallen friend, church member and classmate. A female member of the congregation who regularly sat behind the Thornton family in worship services said she would always remember “the joy in her face when she sang every Sunday morning.”
Amid a chorus of sobs and sniffles, a girl asked the assemblage to remember Sierra “by her smile, not by what happened.”
One of her fellow students said he would always remember her beauty, especially her eyes, while another said that “Today, walking in Latin class without her, without her beautiful blue eyes not seeing her with me, it was hard.”
Another classmate told of how Sierra had befriended her as a shy sixth grader, making her feel welcome and helping her to adjust to the transition to middle school. The two then had their classes together the next year in seventh grade.
“As responsible and everything as Sierra was, she was also crazy and fun and that’s why I’m going to miss her like crazy,” offered another fellow student.