Construction of fence is urged at site of train fatality in Cecil

Boy, 7, was hit Tuesday by an Amtrak liner

April 07, 2005|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,SUN STAFF

NORTH EAST -- A 7-year-old boy struck and killed by an Amtrak train in Cecil County on Tuesday was killed in almost the precise spot where a teenage girl was fatally struck six years earlier -- prompting calls for Amtrak to install a fence at the site.

Matthew Jackson and two friends were playing in a field near the tracks when a neighbor stopped in his car and ordered them to go home. As the children walked in a wooded area toward their North East neighborhood, the neighbor drove off. But the children turned around and walked back, state police said.

Moments later, Matthew climbed a steep embankment and was struck by the crew ladder of passenger Train No. 173 and knocked off the embankment. He died at the scene.

In 1999, Krystle Marie Donlon, 14, was killed at the same site when she pushed a 5-year-old friend out of the path of a train and was struck by the engine, state police said.

Elisha Merchant is among a number of parents calling for a fence to be built at the site.

"It's right next to the basketball court," and many children walk by the tracks on their way to school, said Merchant, whose son was Matthew's close friend. "It's not a safe place at all for the kids to be."

Matthew's family could not be reached for comment.

The boy is at least the fourth person -- and second youngster -- to be fatally struck by a train in Maryland or Delaware since February. Devron Pittman, 11, was struck and killed by an Amtrak Acela train Feb. 19 as he walked to a friend's house in Havre de Grace. The boy's relatives have called for a fence to be built there.

Amtrak spokeswoman Marcie Golgoski said fences often prove ineffective because people cut holes in them.

"We determine areas where fencing makes sense, and if we see a need for fencing we put fencing up," Golgoski said. "This particular area [in North East] happens to be on an overpass where there is a steep embankment."

Golgoski added that there is a pedestrian tunnel under the tracks.

"These children were in an area where there was ample opportunity to cross the area," Golgoski said.

Amtrak and the state police were investigating the incident yesterday.

Teachers at North East Elementary, where Matthew was a first-grader and his sister is in prekindergarten, read prepared statements announcing Matthew's death at the start of classes. A team of guidance counselors offered services, and about 30 children used the counseling services, said Karen Emery, the Cecil County schools spokeswoman.

"He'd joke with our custodians. He'd come in and say `hi' to the cafeteria ladies," Matthew Eggleston, North East Elementary's principal, said of Matthew.

In a letter to parents, Matthew was referred to as "Matty," as he was known by his friends.

Scribbled notes and crayon drawings were taped on the door of Matthew's home in the Cedar Hill neighborhood, offering condolences.

"He just made you feel like he was one of your own," Merchant said. "He was just always so happy and loving. He just played with everybody."

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