Mourners gather for final goodbye to MARC engineer Overflow crowd pays tribute to Orr, a 'professional'

February 21, 1996|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

An overflow crowd of mourners packed a Brooklyn funeral home yesterday and remembered the MARC commuter train engineer who died in Friday's fiery crash as a generous friend who loved trains and show pigeons.

More than 400 fellow bird lovers, train engineers, conductors, family members and others crowded into rooms at the James L. McCully Funeral Home -- so many that about half could not hear or see the service for Richard Orr, who lived in Glen Burnie and had driven trains for a quarter-century.

A pastor and two family members -- one a Baptist minister -- called on God to help mourners understand what caused the crash that killed 11 people, including Mr. Orr. "It is not in wondering but in praying that you find the strength of God," sang Dave Williams, a relative.

"In life, we're told to be responsible," said the Rev. Lyn O'Berry, pastor of First Baptist Church of Brooklyn. Mr. Orr "was the engineer of that train. He was entrusted with a lot of responsibility."

Mr. Orr and another crew member who died in the accident, James Quillen of Frederick, attended the Brooklyn church. Mr. Quillen had recently moved to Frederick and will be buried in Virginia, where his family lives.

Mr. Orr was "a professional," Mr. O'Berry said. "The defining moment of his life was the last 15 seconds of that incident. Probably only God knows what really happened."

Federal investigators are leaning toward human error -- that Mr. Orr may have missed a caution signal telling him to slow down before the head-on collision with the Amtrak's Capitol Limited. But Mr. Orr's colleagues staunchly defended him after the fu-neral.

"I don't believe he had the right signal at Kensington [station]," said an Amtrak engineer who had known Mr. Orr for several years.

He, like most people interviewed, would not give his name, saying employees have been warned that they will be fired if they talk.

"Richard was probably the best," the Amtrak engineer said. "There is no doubt in my mind he did right. Richard had 25 years in and he never made a mistake, and now all of a sudden? No way."

The funeral on East Patapsco Avenue lasted about an hour.

The Orr family had requested an unusual amount of privacy.

A short death notice published in the The Sun Monday did not list names of relatives or even the name of the funeral home. It said only that Mr. Orr is survived by a son, his parents and three sisters.

But word quickly spread throughout Brooklyn, where Mr. Orr grew up and attended Brooklyn High School, and among his co-workers and bird hobbyists.

"It's ironic that this was supposed to be small and private, but it ended up being the biggest funeral we ever had," said Valerie Polyniak, the owner of the funeral home. "There was an overwhelming tribute. I think that brought the family some comfort."

Another of Mr. Orr's colleagues at MARC said the former engineer "loved trains. He always did his job well and he joked from time to time. I don't believe what they are saying about him."

David Palace, a bird fancier who lives in Chester, on the Eastern Shore, said Mr. Orr was considered one of the best pigeon collectors in the nation, with hundreds of national awards to his name.

Mr. Orr was secretary of the Baltimore Pigeon Fancier's Association, a South Baltimore club that specializes in colorful show pigeons. Mr. Orr had about 500 such birds in three backyard coops, and bought and sold them all over the nation.

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