A thin band of storms swept across the land Saturday afternoon. They came from the north. They cooled the air. But a nightmare shattered the day when Marcus Silletti, a 14-year-old with everything going for him, was hit and killed by a train in Alvord.
He had headphones in and didn’t hear the train approaching from the north as it struck him from behind.
Marcus and his family are not alone. In the past few months at least five other teens across the nation have died the exact same way in what looks like a tragic trend. At least 14 more have been killed in the same time span while just walking or standing on the tracks.
On May 23, Chloe Burks, 15, of Cedar Lake, Ind., was killed while walking on train tracks while wearing headphones. On May 30, Mary Gaffney, 17, of Riverdale, Md., was killed in the same way, and on the same day, in Kirkwood, Mo., 14-year-old Cameron Vennard was struck and killed from behind while walking on train tracks while wearing headphones. And as recently as July 1, 15-year-old Mitchell Maeserang, was killed the same way in Wentzille, Mo. A sixth teenager, a 14-year-old boy, was hit this way in Michigan but somehow survived.
Witnesses in all these cases described them identically to how witnesses described what happened to Marcus.
“(Chloe Burks) was walking southbound on the tracks, with headphones in her ears, and didn’t hear the southbound train coming up behind her and it struck her,” Cedar Lakes officer Randal Mayersky told NBC Chicago in May.
A study published earlier this year by the University of Maryland School of Medicine found that the number of headphone-related fatalities almost tripled in the past seven years. From 2004 to 2011, 81 pedestrians were killed in the United States while wearing headphones, and 64 of those were hit by trains.
The number of fatalities increased every year. From only 16 headphone-related deaths in 2004 to 47 last year. Dr. Richard Lichenstein, director of pediatric emergency medicine research at the University of Maryland, decided to conduct the study after a 14-year-old girl was struck and killed from behind by an Amtrack train in 2010 in Maryland.
Texas had the second highest number of pedestrian deaths by train in the nation last year with 33, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. California led the nation with 62.
Operation Lifesaver, a non-profit organization that promotes train safety, provides plenty of safety tips and train accident statistics at www.oli.org.