Witness say train gates did not activate in fatal accident; officials claim they did

MORTON GROVE, Ill. —Questions remain one day after a fatal accident on the Metra train tracks north of the Morton Grove station.

While both Amtrak and Metra officials said a driver tried to get around the traffic gates, witnesses continue to say the gates malfunctioned.

According to police, Mike Vassos, 57, drove his minivan to the crossing just north of the Morton Grove Metra station Sunday around noon. Family member said he had just visited his father’s grave and was heading to his home in Skokie.

Authorities said he was struck by a train and killed,

Josie Gomez and her brother Damian Galvez were in a vehicle directly behind Vassos and said they witnessed the accident.

“He did not go around the barrier,” Gomez said. “We saw no lights, alarm going off that a train was coming."

“He couldn’t have passed the barriers because he would have had to have gone under them or through them,” Galvez said.

Neighbors also told WGN News the traffic gates were not working.

Effie Primbus lives in a condo building overlooking the train tracks. She said she heard the collision and ran to her balcony and saw the gates in the upright position.

But an Amtrak spokesman said the train was equipped with outward facing cameras that conclusively show the traffic gates were functioning properly.

The Amtrak spokesman said the video of the accident would likely not be released to the public.  WGN News has requested to see it to verify the official account.

Metra owns the tracks.  In a written statement a spokewoman said, “In spite of eyewitness reports alleging that the gates at the rail crossing did not activate, data downloaded from the gate mechanisms at the intersection as well as video from the Amtrak locomotive show that the gates were in the down position, the warning lights were activated and the vehicle’s driver drove around the gates and into the path of the oncoming train.”

Vassos owned Johnny’s Grill and sponsored a little league baseball team. At his restaurant Monday, a sign greeted customers saying the fast food spot would remain closed until after Vassos’s funeral.

 

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