Parents of boy killed by train found Angels On Track to aid others

by Dave Sereno
Repository Staff writer

Tuesday, February 24, 1998

Lawrence Twp. - Vicky Moore began wearing angel pins soon after her son died in a car-train collision.

The jewelry and charms, which adorn every outfit, serve a dual purpose for Mrs. Moore and her husband.

They symbolize their belief that Ryan Moore is looking down on them from heaven. And, the couple discovered, the pins are an instant conversation piece, an easy introduction into their undeniable passion for railroad crossing safety.

The Moores are hoping to become guardian angels of sorts for all Ohio drivers.

They launched Angels on Track, a foundation aimed at seeking protective lights and gates and other precautions for dangerous rail intersections in Stark County and across the state.

The effort is being financed by $7 million the family received from a precedent-setting lawsuit, money they only recently received after 1-1/2 years of court appeals.

Denny Moore, Vicky's husband, admits giving little thought to railroads before March 25, 1995.

Ryan, 16, was riding in a car with his brother Jason and four friends when it was struck by a train at Deerfield Avenue NW on the Stark-Wayne border. Also killed in the car crash were Joshua White, 17 and Alyson Ley, 16, of Clinton. White's younger sister, Rebecca, and Jennifer Helms survived the crash, as did Jason Moore, the driver.

"We never thought about doing this before," the father said. "We just can't see not doing it now."

The Moores see Angels on Track as a financial mechanism to help budget-conscious communities get crossing improvements that might not otherwise qualify for federal funding. Rail intersections are governed by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. It uses a complicated formula to rank sites across the state and allocates federal dollars as they become available.

The Moores say the system is flawed, in part, because it puts the cost burden on taxpayers rather than the rail companies using the tracks.

Angels on Track will help cover the local match, typically 30 percent, to help local government leaders bypass the rankings and pursue improvements on their own. It costs an average of about $150,000 to install flashing lights and gates at a typical crossing.

The number of vehicle-train accidents and deaths is declining in Ohio as more crossings are upgraded, according to Dick Kimmins, PUCO spokesman. About half of Ohio's 7,000 public rail crossings are now equipped with flashing lights and gates.

"Money spent to improve crossings, particularly with flashing lights and gates, is a worthwhile expenditure," he said. "And it works."

However, it does not guarantee safety.

Between half and two-thirds of all deaths each year occur at crossings with flashing lights and gates, meaning drivers either miss or ignore the warnings. "We haven't found a solution for that. In fact, there might not be a solution for that," Kimmins said.

The Moores, realizing they lack the political savvy needed to initiate major legislative changes, are trying a grass-roots approach. They started the Stark County Railroad Task Force in hopes that local road engineers and officials can work together to identify dangerous crossings and pursue grants and other assistance. Wayne County has a similar task force. The Moores think the idea has potential across Ohio.

Local focus is needed if crossings are going to be made safer in Stark County, a traditional leader in fatal crashes, Mrs. Moore said. "There is definitely a problem in Stark County," she said. "Something is missing somewhere. This might be the peg to fill the hole."

Turnout at the first meeting last month was encouraging, Mrs. Moore said, adding the group needs volunteers. The next meeting will be 7 P.M.. March 11 at Stark County Regional Planning at 201 Third St. NE in Canton.

The Moores and Joshua Whiteâs family sued rail operator Conrail, saying the accident could have been prevented had flashing lights and gates been installed at the bottom of the steep hill where Conrail's track crosses Deerfield.

The jury agreed. Both families were given $1 million in damages.

The Whites were given an additional $1 million in punitive damages. Last week, they gave that money to the Canton YWCA. The main building at 231 Sixth St. NE will be renamed in honor of Joshua.

Jurors awarded Denny and Vicky an additional $7 million in damages. That money, now at $5.3 million after attorneysâ fees, is funding Angels on Track.

Nearly three years after the accident, the Moores find themselves as reluctant crusaders for rail safety. They remain dedicated to the cause, even though it serves as a constant reminder of their loss and places them in emotionally draining situations like posing for media photos near the site.

They sued not for the money, they said, but with the idea of making a difference for other families.

"We lost our son, and there's nothing we can do about it," Denny said. "This can help keep the memory of him alive for a while."


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