Passengers share details of Metra crash in Mount Prospect
A truck driver was killed and 26 train passengers taken to hospitals after a concrete truck that drove around a railroad crossing gate was hit by an inbound train in Mount Prospect Friday morning.
Passengers said fire engulfed the front passenger cab after the train clipped the fully loaded dump truck west of the Cumberland train station about 8:40 a.m.
"We broke the emergency window (and) we jumped from the train," said passenger Girish Lingaiah of Mount Prospect. "This is my first time (in a train accident), so my heart is still beating (fast)."
The impact caused the first two cars to derail, but both stayed upright.
The truck driver was Kazimierz Karasek, 59, of Prospect Heights, who ran his own excavating company.
A Mount Prospect police official said the gates were down when Karasek turned his truck left onto Mount Prospect Road from westbound Northwest Highway and tried to cross the tracks ahead of the eastbound train.
Mount Prospect police Cmdr. John Wagner said that besides the gates being down, lights were flashing and a no-left turn sign was illuminated.
Metra spokeswoman Judy Pardonnet said 25 passengers and the engineer were taken to seven hospitals. Seven were treated at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights and released.
Four, including the engineer, went to Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge. Two were treated and released, spokesman Greg Alford said.
The engineer was listed in fair condition Friday evening; his injuries are considered nonlife-threatening. The condition of the fourth person was not available.
Ten passengers were treated for minor injuries at the scene.
Pardonnet said the train was nearly at full capacity -- 850 passengers -- when the crash happened.
"It could have been much worse," Mount Prospect Mayor Irvana Wilks said. "Our heart goes out to the people ... and the family of the gentleman who has passed away."
The train was traveling about 50 mph when it hit the truck, said Wes Lujan, a spokesman for Union Pacific.
Wagner said the truck burst into flames, and concrete chunks were thrown against the side of the train. The cab of the dump truck was severed, and Karasek was thrown from the cab. The train came to a stop about 200 feet beyond the point of impact.
Karasek's driving record was not spotless. DuPage County court records show Karasek had 14 traffic stops and received supervision after he was charged on Dec. 8, 2000, with driving under the influence of alcohol. He received supervision in 2007 when he was stopped driving the wrong way on a one-way street and again in 2008 when he was charged with disregarding a control sign, according to the secretary of state's office. He was driving a car during all three instances, not a truck.
Karasek also had a personal injury case stemming from a motor vehicle crash dismissed in 1995 in Cook County.
Mount Prospect Fire Chief John Malcolm said the truck had a diesel tank on each side, one of which dislodged and went underneath the train. When firefighters arrived, passengers had evacuated the first three cars, which were engulfed in heavy smoke. Witnesses said passengers were injured in the first car after the impact sent a fireball through the cabin.
Metra riders were taken to the nearby Lattof YMCA to await transportation. Service on the UP Northwest line continued to be suspended until Friday evening.
Passengers who left their belongings on the train may collect them from the lost and found at the downtown Metra station.
Metra officials were inspecting the tracks after the accident was cleaned up. The crossing at Northwest Highway and Mount Prospect Road was closed for hours. Northwest Highway itself was closed from Seegers Road in Des Plaines to Emerson Street in Mount Prospect, and Mount Prospect Road was closed from Golf Road to Central Road, police said.
Witnesses said the thunderous sound of the train striking the truck was frightening.
"It sounded like a bomb going off," said John Nauman of Rolling Meadows, who was driving on Northwest Highway.
Lingaiah said he boarded the train in Mount Prospect minutes before the crash and was sitting on the upper level of the first passenger car when the collision occurred.
He said the first level of the train quickly filled with fire.
"All were screaming as people were (running) in between the fire," he said.
• Daily Herald staff writers Lee Filas, Deborah Donovan, Kerry Lester, Marni Pyke and Ashok Selvam contributed to this report.