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Safety seminar in Maple Park aims to prevent future railway tragedies

Published: Wednesday, July 9, 2014 11:09 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, July 9, 2014 11:17 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Mary Beth Nolan for Shaw Media)
Amy Opfer of McHenry listens to a presentation on railroad safety at the Maple Park Civic Center. Opfer's 14-year-old son, Parker Wolfsmith, died when he was hit by a train in the community.
Caption
(Mary Beth Nolan for Shaw Media)
A cross memorializing 14-year-old Parker Wolfsmith was on hand for a presentation on railroad safety Wednesday at the Maple Park Civic Center. The teen was struck and killed by a train in Maple Park.

MAPLE PARK – Visitors who headed to Wednesday night’s railway safety seminar at the Maple Park Community Center walked past a large white cross that sat on a table, featuring Parker Wolfsmith’s name.

Wolfsmith, a 14-year-old Kaneland Harter Middle School eighth-grader, died in May after he was hit by a train at a rail crossing in Maple Park. Police have used the term “breezing” to describe how they say Wolfsmith tried to get as close as he could to a train before he was hit.

On Wednesday, the teen was mentioned often, with Maple Park Police Chief Mike Acosta mourning the death of someone so young, and police and Union Pacific train officials seeking to drive home the message that trains are dangerous. Among those in attendance were Wolfsmith’s mother, McHenry resident Amy Opfer, and his sister, Summer. Also, police said two of the teens in attendance were with Wolfsmith on the night of his death.

“He should have lived a lot longer,” Acosta said of Parker Wolfsmith. Josh Salisbury, a youth program coordinator with the Maple Park police, said officials were “hoping to prevent anything like this from ever happening again.”

Jim Mangner, a special agent with Union Pacific, warned that it takes 5,280 feet for trains to stop. He said it’s dangerous being on or near the tracks and that “being bumped by a train is like being bumped by a bulldozer.” He said people who look to social media or YouTube to view videos of people performing risky actions near trains should realize that there are differences between trains in the United States and in other countries. And stunts in movies, he said, don’t demonstrate how dangerous trains can be.

“A lot of things you see in the media happen only in the media,” he said.

Opfer said she came because Acosta told her that Union Pacific officials were coming out for the seminar and she said she wanted to come out. She said it has been a difficult time, especially considering she lives an hour away.

“All I know is my son was killed,” she said.

James Toms, a 13-year-old Maple Park resident, was among those at the event. He said his father wanted him to come by and see what the seminar was about, and, Toms added, he “wanted to see what the whole hype was.” Toms said the incident upset him, as kids “should know better” because “their parents have told them” about the danger.

“I know not to go near that,” he said.

Acosta said the police investigation is nearly complete, needing only a blood test. He said he understood that, while Wolfsmith didn’t call the activity breezing, that he liked to feel the power of the train. Acosta said those who were with Wolfsmith on the night of his death have had to deal with a lot since that night. He said the friends were trying to talk him out of it and that Wolfsmith didn’t mean to get so close. He said it appears the teen miscalculated the width of the front of the train.

Opfer said she hoped that the teens who were with her son on the night of his death “aren’t doing that anymore.” She said she previously had been in Maple Park for Harter Middle School’s promotion ceremony and to clean out her son’s locker.

“He was a good kid,” she said.

On the Web

Visit this story online at KCChronicle.com to view a video of Maple Park Police Chief Mike Acosta explaining the purpose behind the safety seminar.

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