Before crossing: Stop. Look. Listen.
Documentary is tribute to friend killed by train
Thursday, April 7, 2005
By Ryan Clark
Enquirer staff writer
For Christy Male, life was beginning to fall into place.
She’d moved into a new apartment in Covington. She’d just helped coordinate a successful campaign with the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life program. In days, she would celebrate her 26th birthday.
Friends said she was happy.
On July 10, 2001, Male got into her black Ford Contour and drove the 10 miles from her office in Florence to a friend’s house in Walton. She wanted to talk about the Relay for Life fund-raiser and decide how it could be better the next year.
But Male never made it.
Just before reaching Locust Street in Walton, she came upon a double set of railroad tracks, marked only by a cross-bucks street sign. There were no gates or lights. After crossing the first set, she drove 20 yards before reaching the other.
There, she was hit by a Norfolk Southern train going 45 mph.
Stop. Look. Listen.
It’s the elementary advice given to people before they cross railroad tracks, even if there is no indication a train might be coming. But it’s also what Emily Jensen and Cynthia Childs want the public to do.
In 2004, railroad accident deaths increased by 14 percent over the previous year, according to statistics kept by the Federal Railroad Administration’s office of safety. Nationally, more than 400 people died in more than 3,000 accidents last year. There were 14 deaths in Ohio (compared with 13 the previous year) and eight in Kentucky (the same as the previous year).
Those trends and the death of a close friend pushed Jensen and Childs to produce a film.
Their documentary, “Crossings,” follows several families and activists who are pushing for a greater effort to make tracks safer.
A 14-minute trailer for the film was recently shown at the Clovernook Country Club in North College Hill during an event to raise money to complete the project.
“So many people don’t realize that every day, someone is involved in a train accident,” Jensen said. “The public assumes that when someone is hit by a train, they must have been drinking, or they were taking a chance and going across the tracks when they shouldn’t have been. Sometimes, that’s not the case. Sometimes, crossings aren’t marked like they should be, and sometimes, even the best drivers are hurt or killed. ”
Tina Greenlee didn’t hear the crash. She sat in her living room off Locust Street, less than 200 feet from the tracks.
She only knew something had happened when a neighbor banged on the front door, frantically asking if anyone knew a woman who drove a black Ford Contour.
Greenlee ran out of the house and saw that the car had flipped on its back. A window was open, and through it, Greenlee saw her friend, Christy Male, who was semi-conscious and moaning. Greenlee reached her hand through and touched Male.
“We’ve got help coming,” Greenlee said. “Hold on. It’s coming.”
Greg and Cindy Male were both out of the house when their daughter’s accident occurred, so they weren’t there to receive Greenlee’s phone call. Christy’s mom was riding her bike around their Monfort Heights neighborhood. Her dad was at work. The message was waiting for them on the answering machine when they got home.
Hundreds of miles away in Boston, Emily Jensen got a phone call at 1 a.m. She learned that Male, one of her best friends since childhood, was dead, the victim of a train accident. She, Christy and Cynthia Childs all grew up in Cincinnati and attended McAuley High School together.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Jensen said. “We don’t really understand when someone is hit by a train. It’s almost as if you can’t believe that kind of thing happens.”
Male’s father agreed.
“We’re not used to hearing something like that,” Greg Male said. “When we get to a railroad crossing, we see gates and lights. Those aren’t everywhere.”
According to activists for railroad safety, about 80 percent of the country’s 160,000 crossings do not have gates and lights.
After Male’s death, Jensen, who works in film production, decided to make a memorial for Male’s friends and family. Now it has evolved into a crusade, featuring activists and families calling on railroad companies to provide more funding for safety.
Vicky Moore, co-founder of the Angels On Track Foundation based in Salineville (near Steubenville), lost her son to a crossing accident in 1995. After winning a $5.4 million settlement because the tracks had poor sightlines, she and her husband used the money to start the foundation, which wants to improve railroad crossing safety throughout Ohio.
“After these incidents, the driver is always blamed,” Moore said. “The railroad had to accept responsibility, too. Sometimes, they don’t want to install lights or gates because the cost to maintain it is too high. They will only do it when they have to.”
‘People need to hear’
Tina Greenlee, the friend Male was going to visit the day she died, said she’s seen other accidents happen on the same stretch of track. It’s a curve in the second track that makes it difficult to tell what’s coming around the bend, she said. And vegetation – anything from trees to brush – made it even more difficult to tell if a train was coming.
Just days after Christy Male’s death, city crews came to clear the dense vegetation away, Greenlee said. She then wrote letters to congressmen and the city telling of the danger there.
While railroads must pay for maintenance to gates and lights, they don’t decide where they are installed. Federal and state governments identify dangerous crossings using a formula based on the number of vehicles and trains that pass through the site, the speed of the trains and accidents at the site.
That causes a site like Walton, and other rural areas that have low traffic, to go without, Moore said.
Robin Chapman, spokesman for Norfolk Southern, released a statement for this story, saying that the company follows all “state statutory or regulatory requirements concerning crossings. In the absence of those requirements, Norfolk Southern goes by a fixed standard.”
Chapman could not reveal what those fixed standards are.
“Our lawyers said we could not talk about it,” Chapman said.
After their daughter was killed, the Males sued Norfolk Southern and the city of Walton. The suit is pending. Walton Mayor Phil Trzop said he could not comment on the lawsuit.
“But I’m so sorry for their loss. My prayers go out to them.”
While Male was the inspiration for the documentary, the issue has become the driving force.
“People need to hear about these cases,” said Childs, co-producer of “Crossings.” “We want to create a dialogue in the community. People think, ‘We’re going to be protected if this is a dangerous place.’ They need to know that’s not always the case.”
A white cross marks the spot where Male was killed. And for the Male family, there is some comfort knowing that Christy’s friends are carrying on her legacy.
“We’ve always said Christy was good at surrounding herself with great friends, and this is proof,” Greg Male said. “But there is comfort that through awareness, someone else may be saved.”
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For more information, or to make a donation to the project, call (617) 413-9239