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Little girl's letter gets results

(The following story by Jennifer Bracken appeared on the Lorain Morning Journal website on September 18.)

LORAIN, Ohio — After more than a dozen deaths and 45 years of waiting, Lorain's ''Killer Crossing'' today has railroad lights and gates to make it safer. In the end, it took the pleas of a little girl who lost her father there to finally get results.

Norfolk Southern spokesman Rudy Husband confirmed yesterday that lights and gates at the Beaver Park railroad crossing are anticipated to be in service sometime today.

For decades, family and friends of victims pleaded with the railroad company, property owner and city officials to make the crossing safer. It wasn't until young Brianna Carroll said she would not stop writing City Hall until lights and gates were put up, however, that action was taken.

Brianna was 10 years old on Jan. 18, 2006, when her father, David Carroll, 31, was hit and killed by a passing train. Carroll lived with his family in a small cottage next to the railroad tracks -- several hundred feet from the crossing.

His wife, Stephanie Carroll, said having the workers from Norfolk Southern and the Ohio Department of Transportation has been a constant reminder to her and her children of that tragic day.

As she sat on the step outside their yellow cottage yesterday, she gazed at the crossing and shook her head.

''It should've been done a long time ago. Then David would still be here. It just aggravates me,'' she said.

Stephanie admits that she and her three children are excited about the lights and gates. She knows deep down it will save lives in the future, but she remains bitter about what happened to her children's father.

''I just can't see it that way yet,'' she said. ''I think it's too late for me and our kids.''

The day after the accident, Brianna wrote her now famous letter to then mayor Craig Foltin. Since that time, Brianna has stepped out of the spotlight. Her mother says she's too young to realize the magnitude of change she inspired. There had been protests, lawsuits and pleas from victim's families since 1962 when ''Killer Crossing'' took its first life.

Robert Norton was 21 when he was hit and killed by a train at the ''Killer Crossing'' in 1962. His nephew, Craig Norton, said he has a lot of respect for Brianna because she got the community to listen to her after so many others had tried and failed.

''She doesn't realize what she's done,'' Craig said. ''How many times have they said Ôno' to adults? And finally a little girl took them on and won. That's pretty neat.''

Two years after Norton's death, Walter and Flora Burnett were killed by a train at the crossing. In 1966, three teenagers -- John Charles Kelly, 19; Gary McClay, 18; and Dennis Vance, 18, -- were killed, marking the fourth, fifth and sixth fatalities on the tracks. In 1969, ''Killer Crossing'' took the life of Joan Daly, 37; and a little more than a year later Frank Gesualdo, 22, became the eighth tragic loss.

In 1972, Russell Griffore, 28, became casualty nine; and in 1978, Dennis and Susan Hess were killed. At the time of her death, Susan was seven months pregnant.

The casualties continued in 1979 when Mary Ann and William Steckler, both 59, died on the tracks.

Yesterday as news spread about the construction and activation of the lights and gates, family members were speechless. Over the last year, the City of Lorain took ownership of the property, ODOT volunteered to put up the funds and Norfolk Southern agreed to do the work on the project.

The Stecklers' daughter Deborah Cutter cried when she heard the news.

''I guess it's a little too late for my mom and dad, but it's good for anyone else who has to go across those tracks,'' Deborah said. ''I'm just beyond words. It's been too long.''

Deborah's sister Sandy Conrad said she thought it would never happen.

''I am so happy,'' she said. ''People are going to be a lot safer. It should've been done so many years ago. Wow. It took 16 people getting killed before they put up gates, but hey, they're up.''

Three years after the Steckler's were killed, David Martinez, 27, lost his life on the tracks.

''Killer Crossing'' was quiet for 20 years after Martinez was killed, but the pain came rushing back to all the victims' families when Dr. Sami Sfeir, 75, was killed in 2003.

''I can tell you I think it's a great thing that is happening,'' said Sfeir's son, Camille Sfeir. ''It's better late than never. It's too late for us and it wasn't in time for David Carroll, but it's in time for whoever was going to be killed there next and it's pretty clear, based on history, that someone else was going to be killed there.''

Lorain Law Director Mark Provenza said he was happy to be a part of the process to get lights and gates installed at that location.

''It's fantastic,'' he said. ''Hopefully in the future no one will ever again be injured or worse as the result of the railroad crossing.''

Camille commended Brianna for getting the community to take action.

Stephanie and her three children still live in the little yellow cottage next to the tracks. She balked at the thought of ever leaving the house her and David raised their children in. Many things in the house are still the same as he left them that fateful day.

From today forward, Stephanie will look out her windows and see the results of her daughter's efforts to make Lorain a little safer.

''She's the one that did this,'' Stephanie said. ''Many people tried to get this and didn't. Her dad would be very proud of her.''

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

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