Marcus Silletti, 14, of Alvord looked forward to the future.
The soon-to-be high school freshman had been preparing all summer to take his tailback skills to the next level and hopefully dash right onto the varsity squad. But that, along with the young man’s other dreams, ended in an instant late Saturday afternoon.
Silletti was struck and killed by a train at 6 p.m. near the intersection of Elm and O’Neil streets in Alvord. He was wearing headphones when he was struck from behind. It appeared to witnesses he never heard it coming. Walking south on the train tracks, just north of the crossing on O’Neil Street, the teenager was run over by the southbound train and died instantly.
Two carloads of people stopped at a nearby train crossing witnessed the entire horrific event.
“We were sitting at the stop waiting for the train to cross,” said Will Gregg, of Big Spring. “We saw him walking on the tracks. Then I heard the train blow its horn, and he never even turned around. I don’t understand how he didn’t feel the vibrations of the train.”
Gregg was a couple hundred yards away, at the Wickham Street crossing.
Silletti vanished beneath the train and was dragged almost 100 yards by the time the train came to a halt.
The train was traveling at 53 miles per hour in an area where the maximum speed is 60 mph, said Joe Faust, a spokesperson with BNSF Railway. The cargo train was headed from Childress to Alliance. It was pulling 80 cars.
“At that rate of speed it takes about a mile to stop after the brakes go on,” Faust said. “The locomotive engineer sounded the horn as long as he possibly could, but he just couldn’t get the young man to hear it.”
“He was walking toward us,” said Kim McDurmott, of Alvord, who also stopped at the same crossing. “I think he had headphones on. I don’t think he heard it. He never flinched. He never looked over his shoulder. I don’t think he knew it was coming. It’s human nature to flinch or have some kind of reaction. That’s just how people are. It’s my gut feeling that he didn’t do this on purpose. He just didn’t know it was coming.”
Family members and friends began arriving near the scene. All they could do was sit and watch in disbelief as investigators combed the area looking for items such as a cell phone and headphones to help identify the victim. His father, Anthony Silletti, and mother, Amy Hand Silletti, could only look on in horror and grief for hours as the officials did their grim job. As the day grew later, and sunset approached, Mr. Silletti sat in the gravel road near the accident, clutching Marcus’ 9-year-old brother Reece.
Justice of the Peace Precinct 3 Mandy Hopkins Hays arrived to pronounce the victim dead at 8:35 p.m.
Department of Public Safety, Sheriff’s Office, Wise County medics, Alvord Volunteer Fire Department and BNSF officers all responded to the scene. The Sheriff’s Office and BNSF will lead the investigation. DPS Chaplain Bobby Cox also arrived to assist family members and emergency responders.
Faust said the locomotive is equipped with cameras that will be reviewed in the investigation. He also said the conductor and locomotive engineer have agreed to undergo a trauma relief program offered by BNSF.
MARCUS LIVED AND PLAYED WITH PASSION
Described as a sweet kid with a great smile, who was also a terrific athlete, Marcus lived life with passion.
He was the star tailback and cornerback on his middle school football team last year. He also ran track and was on the basketball team.
“He was such a good kid,” said Ryan Starnes.
Starnes coached Marcus in football and basketball last year.
“He was aggressive on the field,” Starnes said. “He played with a passion. He was a fast kid. If he got to the edge, not a lot of people could catch him. And he wasn’t afraid to lower the helmet and take a hit either.
“He’d been going to the weight room all summer and playing seven-on-seven. He looked like he’d get on the varsity team as a freshman next year.”
Starnes, who left Alvord at the end of the school year for a job in Brock, was also Marcus’ Algebra I teacher last year.
“He was a great kid,” he said. “He worked hard on the field and in the classroom. He’s the kind of kid you love to get the opportunity to teach and coach.”
In addition to his mother, father and little brother, Marcus also leaves behind his grandparents, Connie Silletti, of Bridgeport and Tim and Debbie Hand, of Decatur; and a great-grandmother, Patsy Hand, of Chico; and many more friends and family members.
Marcus was also active in First Baptist Church in Alvord.
“He was always such a happy kid,” Starnes said.
STRING OF TRAGEDIES
Marcus was struck at nearly the exact same spot as a woman was almost a year ago. Last summer, Frances Cleburn, 57, of North Richland Hills, walked in front of a train at the same intersection and was killed July 30, 2011. Purple and white flowers and a cross are still at the spot, embedded in the gravel along the tracks, right behind Alvord Farm Supply.
This is the third person killed by a train in Wise County in less than one year. James Bland, 73, of Chico, was killed by a train April 2 when he drove his rock hauler in front an oncoming train near Texas 101 between Chico and Bridgeport.
Silletti is also the fourth teenager from Alvord killed in an accident in the last two years, and the second in less than two months. The community was still reeling from the death of 16-year-old Aisha Bryant. The would-be high school senior was killed after her vehicle was struck from behind by a distracted driver May 25 on U.S. 81/287 north of Decatur. And the school district and town hasn’t been the same since Samantha Rogers, 17, and Delaney Mancil, 15, were killed after a head-on collision with a truck Nov. 11, 2010, on U.S. 380 between Decatur and Denton.
“All these tragedies affect the kids,” Starnes said. “It’s such a small community. Everybody knows everybody. It’s not hard to see how much these kids are going through.”
Faust said BNSF will be in contact with Alvord ISD’s superintendent to set up a train safety program to hold at the school right before or right after the new school year begins.
“We are very active in trying to educate the public, and not just students, but all people in the community,” he added.