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Metra train crash kills truck driver, sends 26 to hospital in Des Plaines

A passenger an inbound Metrtrais carried onstretcher after trahit dump truck intersectiMt. Prospect Road Northwest Highway Des Plaines Friday May

A passenger on an inbound Metra train is carried onto a stretcher after the train hit a dump truck at the intersection of Mt. Prospect Road and Northwest Highway in Des Plaines Friday, May 13, 2011. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 13, 2011 2:43PM

A 59-year-old man who reportedly drove around downed crossing gates was killed and at least 26 people were hospitalized after a dump truck collided with a Metra train in northwest suburban Des Plaines on Friday morning.

The man’s identity was not being released pending notification of family, but he was pronounced dead at 9:45 a.m. by personnel from Northwest Community Healthcare in Arlington Heights, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office.

At approximately 8:40 a.m., a dump truck carrying a load of concrete on Northwest Highway attempted to turn left to go south onto Mount Prospect Road and was struck by Metra Union Pacific Northwest Train No. 636, which left the Mount Prospect station at 8:37 a.m., according to a release from the village of Mount Prospect.

The wreck occurred at the Des Plaines-Mount Prospect border.

According to witnesses, the train crossing gates were down, the warning lights operational and the no left turn sign illuminated, the release said.

“I can’t confirm the truck went around the gates,” Metra spokesman Tom Miller said. Metra police are talking to witnesses.

The impact of the train hitting the truck caused the first two cars of the train to derail. According to Miller, the cars did not tip over.

“The lead car of the train, the cab car, where the engineer sits is derailed,” Miller said. “It’s cockeyed, if you will, its wheels are off the track. There is some serious damage to the lead car.’’

Miller said a small fire erupted under lead the car. “It’s out, there was some smoke,’’ said Miller.

The train engineer has been transported to an area hospital in critical condition, the release said.

In all, 28 passengers from the train were transported to hospitals, the release said. Des Plaines Fire Chief Alan Wax put that number at 26 people, most with minor, non life-threatening injuries.

“They ran the gamut from stress-related to bumps and bruises, soreness and neck pain,’’ Wax said. “We are amazed that the injuries from the train weren’t more serious.’’

Wax said the victims were taken to Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Northwest Community Healthcare in Arlington Heights, Resurrection Medical Center in Chicago, Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village, Glenbrook Hospital in Glenview, St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates and Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington.

He did not know which hospital the driver of the train was taken to.

The chief said ten others were checked on the scene and didn’t need hospitalization. Several others left before firefighters arrived.

Wax said there was an additional person hospitalized after a related traffic wreck in the parking lot of a nearby mall. The crash likely occurred because motorists were distracted by the hectic scene.

Witnesses told Fox Chicago News that the collision caused a horrific noise and a large burst of flame from under the train.

“I thought for sure the flames were going to reach us or some of the debris would hit us,” said Susan Bass, who was in her car near the collision and pulled into the oncoming traffic lane to get away from the flames.

Mary Pichiotti, who was at a gas station 500 feet from the collision when it happened, told Fox Chicago News that words couldn’t describe the noise of the train hitting the truck. As the train dragged the truck, pieces of debris started flying.

“A ball of flame went shooting down the highway,” she said. “The impact -- it was unbelievable.”

Both women said they watched as shaken passengers streamed out of the train.

The train would normally hold about 800 passengers, though it still had nine stops to make before getting to its destination.

Train No. 636 originated at Harvard and was due at Ogilvie Station at 9:23 a.m.

The village release said there are no trains currently running on the Metra Union Pacific Northwest Line and it is unknown at this time when service will resume.

Metra commuters who typically travel on this line are encouraged to make alternate travel plans.

The rail crossing at Northwest Highway and Mount Prospect Road is expected to be closed well past rush hour, according to the release.

The following road closures will also continue:

-- Northwest Highway is expected to be closed from Seegers Road in Des Plaines to Emerson Street in Mount Prospect.

-- Mount Prospect Road will be closed from Golf Road to Central Road.

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