Blue Island teen who survived Metra train crash: ‘God was with me’
BY CASEY TONER firstname.lastname@example.org November 20, 2012 1:20PM
Updated: December 22, 2012 6:23AM
Tori Berrios looked left before pulling her car around the lowered gate of a train crossing Monday.
It’s what the 18-year-old driver didn’t see from her right that almost killed her.
Berrios was driving her mom’s navy blue 2006 Honda CR-V home to Blue Island from a friend’s house on Chicago’s East Side when a Metra train smashed into the front of the vehicle. The accident occurred about 5:20 p.m. at the crossing near 115th Street and Marshfield Avenue in Chicago.
Berrios still was shaken Tuesday but was able to talk about her brush with death.
“I don’t think it was luck or chance, but I feel like God was with me,” she said.
Berrios said she went around the gate because she was in a hurry to get home so her mom could use the car to go grocery shopping. The gate was down and the bells were ringing at the crossing when Berrios pulled her car up to the train tracks on the wrong side of the road.
Berrios, a freshman psychology major at the University of Missouri, said she looked to her left and saw a freight train several blocks away. She thought the gates were about to go up so she pulled into the crossing — and directly into the path of a speeding Rock Island Line express train.
“The crazy thing was I didn’t hear a horn or anything,” Berrios said. “My body in the car got rattled around a lot. It all happened so fast.”
All the air bags in her car deployed upon impact, and the vehicle was sent into a violent, 360-degree spin, crashing into a gate about 20 feet away, Berrios said.
Dizzy and in shock, Berrios exited the car, bleeding from her arms and legs. She couldn’t feel any pain.
Her car told a different story.
“It looked like a total wreck,” Berrios said. “The back window was out and the windshield was smashed.”
A bystander approached Berrios, asked if she was OK, and let her borrow a cell phone. She called her mom, Julia, who met her at the scene shortly after paramedics arrived.
About 10 minutes later, Berrios began to feel aches and pains, she said. She was taken to MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island and was treated for cuts and bruises on her legs and arms, and a small bump on her head. She was released later Monday night.
Police charged Berrios with driving without insurance, reckless driving, failing to stop for a train or signal, and driving on the wrong sideway, according to Metra spokeswoman Meg Reile.
Berrios said she has insurance but was unable to show proof of coverage to authorities because her car was crumpled up. She plans to show her proof of insurance to a judge at her next court hearing.
Berrios also said she “felt terrible” for delaying all the Metra passengers affected by the crash and possibly putting them in harm’s way.
“It wasn’t just jeopardizing my life, it was jeopardizing the hundreds of people on the train,” Berrios said. “If I had been injured any more than I was, my family and friends would have been really sad if I died.”
Last month, Tristian Hicks Williams, 26, died after getting struck by a train when she went around a gate at the same crossing. Her two children were in the minivan with her and lived.
“I was definitely thankful more than anything else. After hearing the story about the woman and her two kids, I was really like, ‘Thank God,’ honestly,” she said. “I was happy to be around my family because my life could have been taken.”
Chip Pew, a railroad safety specialist for the Illinois Commerce Commission, said about 20 fatal accidents occur every year in Illinois due to people going around railroad crossings.
“I know all too well the unfortunate end result of many people’s poor decisions,” Pew said. “And this woman was lucky.”
Berrios said she wouldn’t be sneaking around any lowered crossing gates in the future. Her experience Monday won’t leave her anytime soon.
“I’m surely telling people now, ‘Even if you are in a rush and you think there’s no train or the gate is broken, find another route,’ ” Berrios said. “You don’t know how fast a train is coming.”