Berlin, CT Auto And Train Crash, Mar 1960



Berlin, Conn. (AP) - A passenger train collided with a station wagon today, killing seven school children and an adult.
The automobile carrying the children and a woman driver, was hurled into Silver Lake, an ice-crusted five-foot-deep pond beside Norton Lake.
Police tentatively identified the dead as MRS. EMILY WHITAKER of Berlin and seven state wards, all Negroes. At least three of the bodies were held by the submerged wreckage in the pond. Skin divers were called.
None of the passengers aboard the train - the New Haven Railroad's No. 97 bound from Springfield, Mass., to New York - was injured.
The accident occurred at an unprotected grade crossing on Norton Lane, just off the Wilbur Cross Parkway, on a roadway covered with half an inch of snow.
It was near the home of MRS. WHITAKER and her husband, John, who were cited by the Catholic Transcript in 1957 for their care of foster school children.
In 14 years they had cared for 16 foster children.
The crash killed some of the car's occupants. Police reports indicated the others may have died under water.
WHITAKER was watching from a window of his home 100 yards away when he saw the diesel engine and the 1955 station wagon pile together.
He ran to the scene but was helpless.
The vehicle was thrown over a 10-foot embankment into the pond. Three of the children were hurled from the car, one landing on the embankment and two skidding across the ice on the pond.
The five other occupants were trapped in the car.
Across the embankment and on the ice there was mute evidence of the tragedy - scattered school books and brief cases.
Parts of the station wagon were strewn for a fifth of a mile along the railroad tracks. The vehicle had been hit broadside by the train.
Besides MRS. WHITAKER, the dead were: JOSEPH CORMIER, 14; PATRICIA HEANURE, 14; MARY ANN DeCRUZE, 12; BYRON BATTLE, 6; DORIS GOMEZ, 6; and a 7-year-old child whose first name was SHELLEY.
MRS. WHITAKER had waited for a freight train to pass. When it went by, she started, and the station wagon crept into the path of the passenger train.
A flat tire contributed to the accident.
She and the children had planned to go to early morning mass, but the tire went down and delayed them. So they started directly to school.
She was taking some of the children to a bus to carry them to the junior high school at Kensington. The others were going to Grammar School in Berlin.
The children came to the Whitakers from the St. Francis Home in Hartford.
In Hartford, Gov. Abraham A. Ribicoff termed the accident "a grave tragedy," and the State Public Utilities Commission ordered an immediate investigation.

The Plain Speaker Hazleton Pennsylvania 1960-03-08