Police arrest mourner at vigil for writing on rail gate
(The following story by Steve Schmadeke appeared on the Chicago Tribune website on September 14.)
CHICAGO — Five days after her friend was struck and killed by a freight train in Villa Park, Angela Keslinke returned to the crossing gate for a candlelight vigil with his family and friends.
The group of about 40 had just left a wake at an Addison funeral home for Michael Dunscomb, 22, who was on foot Aug. 18 when he was killed near the Villa Park Metra station. As a drizzle fell, one mourner penned a tribute in black marker on the white crossing gate. Keslinke took a turn, too.
"I love [she drew a heart] you. Always remembered. Love, AK," is what the 20-year-old Lombard woman says she wrote. As she finished, she noticed someone was illuminating her words.
It was a Villa Park police officer with a flashlight. Keslinke, a nursing student, handed him the marker.
"I said: 'I'm really sorry. I guess it's not the greatest thing to do, but it just felt ... like it was a way of remembering,'" she said. "I offered a million times: 'I'll paint over it. I'll pay for it.' But he didn't care. Our friend just died. If anything, give me a fine. But to take me away in handcuffs like I'm a terrible person ..."
Keslinke was taken to the Villa Park police station. The arresting officer spoke with a Union Pacific railroad cop, who said he wanted to sign a complaint, according to the police report. Keslinke was charged with malicious damage to railroad property, a misdemeanor, and released without posting bail.
A Union Pacific spokesman said the railroad tries to discourage such memorials because they are unsafe.
"Memorials in themselves tend to -- in our case -- bring people by the track, which is something that we try not to do because you never know when a train is going to come," said Mark Davis. "It's very tough because a tragic incident like a grade-crossing collision is very traumatic and we would not want to see anyone else hurt."
Villa Park police said that it was Union Pacific's decision to press charges, but that the village didn't disagree with the decision and probably would do the same under similar circumstances.
"I don't think anything destructive was meant by this," said Villa Park police Lt. Mike Lay, who was not the arresting officer. Although the damage may have seemed minor, Union Pacific has suffered damages to property before, he said. Dunscomb's brother Jason, 24, left the vigil before Keslinke's arrest, but said he was taken aback by the news.
"People were writing, 'I miss you, Mike' and stuff like that," said Dunscomb, of Addison. "I didn't think somebody would get arrested."
Police and his family said Dunscomb, who lived in an apartment just south of the Union Pacific tracks, was walking home from a friend's house on the night he died. He may have slipped as he was crossing the tracks along Ardmore Avenue, they said.
A toxicological report on his death is expected to be finished next week, according to the DuPage County coroner's office. No inquest is planned.
Keslinke is due in court on Oct. 3. She could be ordered to pay for cleanup and to perform up to 120 hours of community service, among other possible sanctions.
Friday, September 14, 2007