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Published: Monday, 2/5/2001

Rail signals are triumph for pair who lost teen at site

EDON, Ohio - Sheila Jones cried when she recently learned that warning devices will be placed at the railroad crossing where her 17-year-old daughter was killed.

“Two days before her birthday, one of the trustees walked up to me and told me we were going to get lights and gates,'' Mrs. Jones said. “I cried. I was happy, but I was still kind of sad.''

Sheila Jones and her husband, Ralph, fought for nearly two years to get better warning signals for the crossing on Williams County Road H near Blakeslee, Ohio.

Two weeks ago, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio ordered several railroad companies to install warning devices and gates at 17 crossings.

That includes the crossing near Blakeslee, where Sheena Jones was killed in June, 1999. Her car was struck by a train.

The crossing is on a small hill, flanked by a field on one side and weeds on the other. On a clear day, the visibility is poor, Mrs. Jones said.

It was a hot, sunny day when Sheena left her baby-sitting job about 2 p.m. to make the three-mile trip to her home. She had just pulled out of the driveway from her job, about 60 feet from the tracks, when she failed to see the oncoming train.

The crossing was marked by crossbucks, Mr. Jones said.

“If there'd been lights there for her to see, I bet she'd still be here,'' he said.

For about 18 months the Joneses tried to get better warning devices at the crossing. They talked to county officials, wrote letters to government agencies, contacted a safety task force, and held rallies near the tracks. But they had little success until they contacted the Florence Township trustees.

The trustees took the Joneses project and made it happen. “We wrote a letter to the PUCO,'' said Marvin Gearhart, one of the trustees who put together a meeting at the tracks in November with representatives from the state utilities commission, Norfolk Southern Corp., and Ohio Rail Development commission.

They assessed the crossing and determined gates and lights were needed.

Now, Norfolk Southern must submit an installation plan and cost estimate for the lights and gates within three months to the utilities commission.

Installation must be completed by Jan. 18. Maintenance costs will be the railroad's responsibility.

“I'm glad it's being done, but it's not going to bring Sheena back. But at least no one else will be killed there,'' Mrs. Jones said.

Without their tireless effort, the tracks might never have been earmarked for lights and gates, Mr. Gearhart said.

“It happened because of their deceased daughter. In order to get this project done life had to be taken away from a family,” he said.



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