Nancy M. Tharpe, 46, Chase homemaker who helped rescue victims of train crash

August 29, 1996|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Nancy M. Tharpe, who joined her Chase neighbors in rescuing victims of the fatal 1987 Amtrak crash and was later among those honored by President Ronald Reagan, died Friday of a heart attack at Fallston General Hospital. She was 46.

On Jan. 4, 1987, Mrs. Tharpe was talking on the phone with a friend when the New York-bound Colonial, traveling at 105 mph and filled with holiday travelers, plowed into the rear of three stalled Conrail locomotives on a narrow stretch of mainline tracks near the working-class Baltimore County community.

"We heard an explosion and ran out onto the deck of our house, which is about 165 feet from the tracks, and saw the train piled up there," Mrs. Tharpe's husband, Albert L. Tharpe Sr., said yesterday. "We ran over there and tried to help people. It was horrible."

The Tharpes and their neighbors took injured passengers into their homes and fed rescue workers and the news media.

"We had 45 people in our house, and she ran around putting on ice packs and keeping people warm," Mr. Tharpe said. "It was typical of her to want to help people."

A month after the accident, which killed 16, Mrs. Tharpe and 68 other rescuers were honored by Mr. Reagan at the Old Executive Office Building in Washington. He praised them for their "strength and courage" and presented the community with the Private Sector Initiative Commendation.

"I'm not a hero. I'm a housewife. John Wayne's a hero," Mrs. Tharpe told The Sun in 1987.

"She never thought of herself as a hero and at first didn't want to go. We had to convince her to go," Mr. Tharpe said .

"For a long while afterward, every time a train went by her house she said she could hear people screaming," said her mother, Helen Buecker of Bengies.

Friendships grew out of the tragedy, Mr. Tharpe said. His wife regularly received cards and presents from crash survivors.

She was born Nancy Buecker in Baltimore and raised in Dundalk, where she graduated from high school. She worked a short time for Maryland Cup Corp. She became a homemaker after her marriage in 1968.

Services were held yesterday.

In addition to her husband and mother, survivors include two sons, Albert L. Tharpe Jr. of Baltimore and Joseph W. Tharpe of Chase; a daughter, Amanda M. Tharpe of Chase; a brother, Donald Buecker of Bengies; five sisters, Donna Westfall of Aberdeen, Rita Butrim of Dundalk, Ann Mervis of Middle River, Janet Burkett of Sparrows Point and Margaret Vites of Glen Burnie; and two grandchildren.

Pub Date: 8/29/96

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