(Ripley, Tennessee October 22, 2016)
A commonly used path that crossed Canadian National Railroad tracks at an unfenced area south of the Highway 19 overpass where local Ripley, TN children were known to play daily became a pathway to death for a nine-year-old fourth grader Saturday afternoon at about 5:00 P.M., CDT. The child and two young friends rode their bikes around the railroad tracks where Federal Railroad Administration statistics say an average of 18 CN freight and Amtrak passenger trains pass on an average day at maximum speeds of 79 mph.
Little Kelli Payton was said to be a sweet, timid and gifted young girl whose lifetime ambition was to be a doctor. Family members said that she was playing near her home and got too close to the railroad tracks in the area, according to Memphis, TN WREG/WMC-TV, Channel 3 Action News.
She was a pretty little girl, very respectful, said her adult cousin, Oscar Alexander. I just hate that it happened to her like that.
Family members told Memphis Fox 3s Shelby Sansone that there is a pathway in the woods behind their house that leads to the train tracks.
I tried to keep them out of there because I didnt want them playing down there, said her grandfather, Jerry Norfolk, referring to the unfenced, wooded area and steep path that led to and surrounded the railroad tracks.
Neighbors told WREG that the children were playing a game they call chicken; kids run across the tracks, trying to beat the train. Saturday evening, two other children made it across the tracks, but sadly the fourth-grader was no match for the quick and powerful train. She died at the scene.
Fox 13 News talked to a neighbor, Charles Page, who lives on Williams Street near the tracks, and who said he was not surprised that someone was hit in the remote area. Theres a little trail right through there, where people, you know, walk through all the time¦
Another neighbor, L.C. Whitlow, responded to the tragic scene when he saw a crowd, running and screaming that someone had been hit by a train. I thought it was a grown person, he told WREG. But when I seen (saw) her little helpless body lying there, man, I had to take my shirt off and cover her body up.
When you see a little child like that, you dont know what to say or what to do, he lamented, sadly. It isnt no way you can describe it but hurt and pain, he continued.
As Ripley and Lauderdale County authorities were investigating the tragic accident, little Kellys family were holding a vigil in her memory, saying that they are relying on their faith and the kindness and compassion from the greater Ripley community as they deal with this unspeakable and unexpected loss.
Its just a horrible blow, Kellis grandmother, Mary Norfolk told Local Memphis. Losing a child is a very hurting moment, concluded Whitlow.