Angels Revive Memory Of Son

The Sun Journal


CANAL FULTON -- Denny and Vicki Moore never paid attention to the whistles.

The blue collar couple -- like most people -- allowed the white noise of a train to be drowned out by other more important sounds. They had stopped hearing the roar of the engine as it passed along the tracks. They had become complacent to the scream of the steam whistle. They simply no longer heard any sound associated with the passing of a train.

On March 25, 1995, all of that changed. Now, the sound of a locomotive rips through the couple like a knife.

"We can't stand a train whistle," Vicki said. "It cuts right through us. We are so sensitive to that sound."

"Before that day, I didn't pay attention to any of them," said Vicki's husband, Denny. "Now I hear every one of them."

Nearly five years ago, the Moore's son, Ryan, age 16, was killed along with two other friends his same age-- Joshua White and Alyson Ley.

Ryan had just received his temporary driver's permit that day.

"What I remember about that day was looking for Ryan's birth certificate that morning so he could get his license and getting his death certificate that night," said Vicki.

The three lives were taken when Ryan, his brother, and four of their friends were hit by a Conrail train as they crossed tracks on Deerfield Ave. which were not equipped with warning lights and signals.

Ryan was in the back seat with Joshua and Alyson. His older brother, Jason, was driving and had even slowed up to cross the unmarked tracks. The front of the car had cleared the tracks. The train struck the rear. Three passengers in the front -- Jason, Joshua's younger sister Rebecca and Jennifer Helms -- sustained injuries-- many of them serious-- but survived. The three who were killed instantly were in the backseat.

That crossing had been the site of eight deaths since 1975. The last fatal accident before the crash that took the life of the three motoring friends had only been two months prior.

After a successful lawsuit against Conrail, the Moores used the settlement to found The Angels on Track Foundation.

"We didn't sue for money," Vicki said. "We never wanted the money. Once we saw the crossing, we knew what we wanted to do if we won money in the settlement. We wanted to correct the problem. We knew what we wanted to do from day one."

With all the proceeds from a $7 million settlement -- less attorney, court, legal fees and taxes-- the Moores began the first local foundation dedicated to railroad safety.

"We started the foundation with the money," Denny said. "We didn't want to have a personal gain from our son's death. We wanted to make a difference."

Vicki Moore did not take much stock in guardian angels before the death of her son. She had a much harder time believing such creatures existed in the aftermath of the crash. But when trying to determine a name for the foundation she and her husband wanted to create, she had a dream.

"We were trying to figure out a name for the foundation and there were three kids involved so we wanted something that could include all the victims," said Vicki. "I woke up about two or three in the morning and wrote down this name -- Angels on the Tracks. Once people found out the name of the foundation, people started sending us angels."

The Moore home is now adorned with them. Every room contains one. Vicki has become quite fond of them. A frame with a silver and gold winged heavenly being contains the last photograph taken of their son at home.

The Moores -- who do not see themselves as crusaders -- did not stop with the foundation.

"We heard about a task force being set up in Wayne County. We weren't invited, we just went," said Vicki.

The Moores were instrumental in helping found a railroad safety task force in that county as well as one in Stark County in which Stark County Commissioner Donald Watkins now chairs.

The Moores say their goal is to establish a railroad safety task force in the 80 counties in Ohio that have functional rails. They have testified before Congress and have met with other families who have been victimized by car-train collisions to lend their support.

"It's a bond we didn't ask for but we have a bond with these people," said Denny.

In November, the Moore's foundation hosted a consortium in Belden Village of similar foundations and safety organizations in the nation and a national chapter -- The National Railroad Safety Coalition-- was developed.

The couple is determined to make railroad safety its priority. The foundation is established today to provide local reimbursement grants for railway improvements. Currently, the foundation is considering its fifth benefactor in two years since the foundation's inception -- a request from Jackson Township to have lights and signals installed at the railroad crossing at Forty Corners. The foundation can supply anywhere from 15 to 35 percent of a total project cost.

"People are dying because the county can't afford it," said Vicki. "Because local government can't afford it. That's not right."

The average cost for installation of a crossing gate is anywhere from $90,000 to $200,000. While the railroad can consider a 10-percent voluntary contribution, other funding is supplied by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. The majority of the money however is the responsibility of the local highway department where the crossing is located.

Ohio ranks as the sixth worst state in the nation for railroad crossing accidents. Among counties, Stark County is ranked first in auto to train collisions.

Before it was repaired -- eight months after their son's death -- the Deerfield Crossing was reportedly ranked the most dangerous unmarked crossing in the state. It had been earmarked for a crossing in November, 1994-- four months before the fatal collision and yet the improvements were not done, reportedly because of local funding problems.

While the couple has increased awareness about the need for more gates and warnings at railway crossings, the Moores' toughest battle could be forthcoming. They are awaiting news from the Internal Revenue Service that could ultimately take half of the foundation's money because the settlement check that was written which started the foundation was written personally to Denny.

"We've been waiting for over a year on that," said Vicki. "There's a lot of red tape."

Vicki and Denny feel the mission of the foundation will never be complete.

"Laws have to change. Equipment has to change. The railroad industry has to change," said Vicki. "I don't enjoy this. But I don't think in my lifetime, I'll ever see that change. But this is the time for the change."

Vicki, who speaks with a fire in her eyes when she talks about the needed improvements at railroad crossings, said she and her husband are only instruments for potential change.

"Denny and I aren't doing anything. The kids who were in the car that day did this," she said. "I have done nothing. I want people who think of the foundation to remember Ryan and know he would be here today if there had been gates and lights at that crossing. In my mind, the people responsible for that crossing chose to do nothing. But we chose to do something."

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