GARY | A deadly railroad crossing near County Line Road claimed two more lives Friday when a car went around the lowered crossing gates and was struck by a South Shore commuter train.
Two others, including a baby, were injured at the multitrack crossing, the scene of several fatal crashes in recent years.
Taajae McKinley, 20, of East Chicago, was pronounced dead at the scene by a Lake County coroner's office investigator. McKinley, who was the driver of the car, died of multiple blunt force trauma injuries.
Victoria Lucio, 19, of Gary, the back seat passenger in the vehicle, also was pronounced dead by an investigator at the scene of multiple blunt force trauma, a coroner's spokesman said.
Marquis Pratts, of Gary, was riding in the front passenger seat. She was seriously injured and was transported to Methodist Hospitals Northlake Campus in Gary. A representative of the hospital, citing patient confidentiality, said the hospital would not be releasing condition information on Pratts.
Pratts' 18-month-old daughter, Quiseya, was in a booster seat behind her mother. She received serious internal injuries and was airlifted to a Chicago-area hospital, Gary Police Department spokesman Lt. Samuel Roberts said. A spokesman for Comer Children's Hospital at the University of Chicago said Quiseya was in fair condition as of Friday afternoon.
Clementine DuBose, of Gary, was two cars behind the Ford Escort that was struck about 9:15 a.m.
"I couldn't believe it. It was surreal. They went around the gates," said DuBose, who lives in the area and was on her way to a meeting.
The eight-car train pushed the Escort several hundred yards to the west, far enough so that the crossing on County Line Road was cleared when the train came to a stop.
Roberts said McKinley had stopped for an eastbound freight train to pass on the southern most set of tracks, but then drove around the gates and was struck by the South Shore train, which was on the northern set of tracks.
Ron Ziulkowski, a Portage firefighter, was in the last car of the train with his wife, Sherry, their daughter Natalie and her fiance, Dan Reisen, when the accident happened.
"We could see smoke outside the window, and the train had stopped," said Ziulkowski, adding they only felt a "jolt" in the rear car when the accident happened.
Ziulkowski said a conductor walked through the car and told them he believed they'd hit something. Ziulkowski said he identified himself as a firefighter and offered to go to the scene to help.
When Ziulkowski got to the car, he said, the three adults were not moving. The baby was in an infant seat in the back passenger-side seat of the car crying.
"There was no movement anywhere else in the car," said Ziulkowski, who added they worked to keep the baby conscious. "A silent baby is not a good thing."
Reisen said riders didn't know what had happened.
"I didn't feel or notice anything except that we were stopped," said Reisen, of Portage. "Everybody was just complaining about being hot and not even realizing people were dead."
Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District spokesman John Parsons said there were no injuries on the train, which was scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 10:15 a.m. The train was released to proceed to Chicago at 11 a.m.
Emergency responders from Gary, Ogden Dunes and Portage responded to the scene.
The train was traveling at 79 mph where the car was struck, Roberts said.
Roberts said Gary police are continuing their investigation into the accident.
Friday's fatal accident is the fourth at the crossing since 2007.
In April 2008, Gary residents Elester Grigsby, 29, and Adreinne Mills, 21, were killed when Grigsby drove around two sets of gates on County Line Road and was struck by an Amtrak train.
In December 2007, Charles Jones, of Gary, was killed when his truck collided with a South Shore train.
In March 2007, Jill Tutlewski, 26, of Crown Point, and Julie Malkowski, 26, of Valparaiso, were killed when the Jeep Cherokee driven by Tutlewski pulled around the gate and was struck by a South Shore train.