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Bike/train crash death of Darryl Len Pruitt, 60, raises Metra crossing safety issues

The 102nd Place and Vincennes Metra crossing, where Pruitt was killed. Image: Google Maps

The Metra crash death of a Darryl Len Pruitt, 60, who was biking Saturday evening in the Washington Heights community, was the second fatal train collision within a few blocks of the Far Southwest Side in the last two months. It was the latest in a series of crashes involving people illegally crossing Metra gates, raising questions about what the commuter railroad can do to improve safety at crossings.

According to Metra spokesperson Michael Gillis, the engineer of an outbound Rock Island Line train said that as he approached 102nd Place along Vincennes Avenue around 8 p.m. on Saturday, July 17, he saw Pruitt on a bicycle riding east toward the tracks  on 102nd Place, which is one-way westbound. Gillis said Pruitt rode past a “Do Not Enter” barricade and “Do Not Enter” and “One Way” street and past warning bells into the crossing.

There are safety gates on both the north and south side of 102nd Place that were presumably deployed at the time. However, since 102nd Place is one-way westbound, there were no gates on the west side of the tracks to deter Pruitt from crossing.

The engineer sounded the train horn as soon as he saw Pruitt but said the bicyclist did not react, according to Gillis. "The engineer applied the emergency brakes but could not stop in time. It appears the bicyclist hit the train, rather than the train hitting the bicyclist."

Pruitt lived on the 600 block of West 103rd Street, a mile east of the crash site, according to the Cook County medical examiner's office. There were no other reported injuries.

The Pruitt crash site is one of dozens of at-grade Metra crossings on Chicago's Far Southwest Side. Image: Google Maps
The Pruitt crash site is one of dozens of at-grade Metra crossings on Chicago's Far Southwest Side. Image: Google Maps
The Pruitt crash site is one of dozens of at-grade Metra crossings on Chicago's Far Southwest Side. Image: Google Maps

A Beverly Review report on the case noted that on Sunday, June 27, of this year Essence Ransberry, 5, and Joneisha Ransberry, 38, plus another unidentified adult, were killed in a Metra/car crash about half a mile south of Saturday's crash site at 107th Street and Vincennes, on the border of Washington Heights, Beverly, and Morgan Park. According to witnesses, the driver of the car went around other stopped vehicles and maneuvered around safety gates prior to the collision, officials said.

Some other fatal Metra collision cases in recent years:

    • Clarence D. Walton, 49, was struck and killed on December 23, 2017, while riding across 71st Street at East End Avenue in South Shore.
    • 19-year-old Christopher T. Davis was killed while walking on February 12, 2020, after a driver was caught in front of a Metra gate ay 87th Street and Pulaski Road in Ashburn and their car was hit by a train, striking Davis. Three other people were also critically injured in the crash.

Bike advocate and Beverly resident Anne Alt tweeted that collisions are common along the two sets of Rock Island Line tracks on Chicago's Far Southwest Side.

A possible strategy to help prevent Metra crashes would be to ensure that every crossing has safety gates that block all lanes of streets that cross the tracks. Gates should also be installed on both sides of the tracks, regardless of whether a street crossing them is one-way.

While Pruitt was reportedly riding against traffic, if he had been on foot it would have been legal for him to walk east on 102nd Place, regardless of the fact that there are no sidewalks on that street. Either way, there should have been gates on the west side of the tracks to deter people from attempting to cross while trains are approaching.

Fatality Tracker: 2021 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths on surface streets

Pedestrian: 10
Bicyclist: 4

Note: Streetsblog Chicago’s traffic death numbers represent fatal crashes on Chicago surface streets, based on media reports and/or preliminary Chicago Police Department data released by the Chicago Department of Transportation.

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