Counties pass up chance for safe rail crossings
Foundation gives out money to stop more tragedies

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Carl Matzelle

Plain Dealer Reporter

Most Cleveland-area counties are passing up thousands of dollars in free money to improve deadly rail crossings.

One of them is Lorain County, where a man died in January when a train hit his pickup at an ungated crossing. Others include Cuyahoga, Lake, Portage and Summit counties.

The money is available from the Angels on Track Foundation, a group established in 1997 by a Stark County couple after their teenage son died at an ungated crossing.

To qualify for the money, counties must establish rail safety task forces that meet monthly and submit minutes to the foundation. The foundation provides grants to improve crossings and teaches the counties how to seek more money elsewhere.

The foundation has approached 31 of Ohio's 88 counties, but only seven -- including Medina and Huron -- have active task forces. Most of the other Greater Cleveland counties say the idea sounded good but never became a priority.

For example, Cuyahoga County officials met with the foundation in 2000 but put off a decision while waiting for a rail crossing study by the Ohio Rail Commission. After that, the task force proposal got lost in the shuffle of daily business, said Claire Kilbane, program manager for the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission.

The same thing happened in Lorain County. Foundation officials met with county commissioners in March 2000 and followed up by phone, fax and e-mail for a year.

"Unfortunately, it got lost in the mix with other business," Lorain County Commissioner Betty Blair said.

Summit County leaders met with the Angels on Track Foundation in 1999, but the proposal languished because of staff changes and lack of communication between departments, said former security chief Barry Gradwohl, who would have headed the task force.

All three counties said the idea is worth considering again.

"We have two new commissioners on board, and I think they'd be interested in hearing the presentation," Blair said.

The death of David Carroll in Lorain may give the effort new life.

Carroll, 31, was rushing to work Jan. 18 when he died at a crossing near Beaver Park Marina in Lorain. His 10-year-old daughter, Brianna, touched the community when she wrote to the mayor pleading for more safety. "I'm really mad, and my heart is crushed into little pieces," she wrote.

Dennis and Vicky Moore, founders of the Angels on Track Foundation, share in Brianna's pain. Their son, Ryan, 16, died with two other teens on March 25, 1995, when a train hit their car on the border of Wayne and Stark counties.

The Moores won $10 million the next year in a lawsuit against Conrail. About $4.6 million went to attorneys' fees, and they used the rest to create the foundation. Since 1997, the foundation has spent more than $400,000 to install gates at 14 Ohio crossings, including $100,000 in Medina County.

Medina County had 32 train-vehicle crashes from 1999 through December 2005, said Sheldon Senek of Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit group dedicated to reducing train collisions. In the same period, Cuyahoga County had 42 crashes and Lorain County had 25.

The Medina County rail safety group, formed in 2002, identified the 25 most-dangerous crossings, then last year upgraded the three worst ones with gates and lights at a cost of about $166,500 each. The three next-worst crossings are slated for upgrades in the spring.

"The Moores turned their horrible tragedy into a life-saving crusade," County Commissioner Patricia Geissman said. "We're following their lead."

Vicky Moore wishes other counties were as interested.

"I could cry about this," she said, pausing to take a breath. "Every county has dangerous crossings that need upgrading. We want to help. But it takes time and hard work."

Two days after David Carroll's death, the Moores, who now live in Carroll County, visited the fatal Lorain crossing and took pictures of the sight lines for their Web site,

Another couple arrived in a car and parked nearby. The two couples began to talk.

The other couple turned out to be Stephen and Dorothy Carroll, David's parents.

"We weren't there to intrude but told them what happened to our son and how sorry we were for their loss," Dennis Moore said.

"For us, there is no closure . . . and there never will be," his wife said, wiping away tears. "We know what the Carrolls are going through."

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:, 440-934-0522


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