‘It was a split-second mistake’ husband says of wife struck and killed by train

Five local pedestrians killed by trains since March

Credit: Hancock, Aimee (COP-Dayton)

Credit: Hancock, Aimee (COP-Dayton)

Five people killed by trains in local communities over a five-week period this year were pedestrians on or near the railroad tracks, including Cynthia “Cindy” Steele, who went around crossing gates as a train approached in Tipp City.

Her husband, Chris Steele, was walking with her on the night of April 8 when she died, not far from the couple’s home.

Steele and the five children he shares with Cindy, who range in age from 16 to 28, are still reeling from the shocking loss.

“She was an amazing woman, full of heart and spirit, and would do anything for people. That’s the legacy she leaves behind,” Steele said. “After 25 years of marriage, there will be no one like her, ever again, for me. She was the love of my life and I’m blessed to have been married to her.”

Steele’s last day with his wife was spent viewing the total solar eclipse together on that Monday afternoon at their home in Tipp City, just hours before her death.

“What was probably the coolest day in our lives turned out to be the worst day of our lives,” the Steele’s son, Nathan, 24, reflected.

That evening, Chris and Cindy were walking from their house on North Tippecanoe Drive to the VFW on East Main Street, a place where Cindy enjoyed playing pool.

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Steele said that the train, which was northbound, was approaching a crossing on West Walnut Street where visibility is somewhat obscured by homes, fences and trees situated near the tracks.

Cindy reportedly lost her footing while crossing the track, according to both Steele and the train’s conductor. This caused her to fall at least once as the railroad crossing arms were down.

“It was a split-second mistake and I know if she could take it back, she would,” Steele said. “She had everything to live for and loved her kids dearly.”

“It’s hard when there starts to be a new normal, when everyone goes back to their lives and it feels like you get left behind,” Steele said. “It’s like you have two different lives — the life with her and the life without her.”

The Steele family said they hope sharing Cindy’s story can have an effect in two ways: to remind people of the danger of crossing train tracks, and to inspire others to show empathy, rather than judgement, to those who fall victim to similar critical mistakes.

“I think people forget that each one of us is flawed and we all make bad decision sometimes,” Steele said. “Like being at a traffic light and turning in front of a car that almost hit you. Sometimes you get away with your mistakes and sometimes you pay dearly.”

In Steele’s case and three of the other local fatal train incidents, locomotive engineers saw the victims but were unable to stop the train in time. In one incident the operator of an overnight train was unaware that a man had been struck, and authorities found the victim the next morning.

Cynthia Steele

Just after 10 p.m. April 8, Tipp City Police officers responded to multiple call-in reports of a pedestrian struck by a train at the West Walnut Street CSX railroad crossing.

Emergency responders found Steele, 47, of Tipp City lying on the road beside the stationary train on the west side of the tracks, the Tipp City Police report states.

The train’s conductor told officers he was traveling north and as he approached the Walnut Street crossing, he saw Steele on the ground and attempt to stand up before falling again, according to the report.

A toxicology report prepared by the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office indicates Steele’s blood alcohol level was between 0.214 and 0.238. Her death was ruled an accident due to multiple blunt force injuries.

Steven W. Flitton

Just prior to 6 a.m. April 1, Dayton police responded to the railroad crossing at North Keowee Street and East Monument Avenue on the report of pedestrian struck by a train.

Officers on scene discovered a male pedestrian who was determined to be deceased. The victim later was identified as Steven W. Flitton, 41, of Dayton.

The train’s conductor and engineer told police they were traveling southbound from Indiana to Cincinnati on the CSX track, according to the Dayton Police report.

While just south of the Interstate 75 overpass, the two reportedly observed a male standing in the middle of the train tracks “with his hand near his face and rocking back and forth,” the report states.

The emergency brake was immediately initiated but the train was unable to stop in time, according to the report. The train was traveling 26 mph at the time.

A toxicology report for Flitton is pending.

Jennifer Carswell

On the afternoon of March 16, first responders were dispatched to the report of a pedestrian struck by a train in the area near Beachler Road and Fairy Lane in Carlisle.

On the scene, Carlisle police identified the victim as Jennifer Carswell, 42, of Germantown, who was pronounced deceased.

According to an Ohio State Highway Patrol report from the incident, a train owned by CSX was traveling westbound, northeast of the Beachler Road railroad crossing, at a speed of 20 to 25 mph when the train’s two operators observed Carswell walking westbound just feet away from the tracks.

Carswell did not respond to the locomotive’s horn. Operators began braking procedures but Carswell did not move away from the tracks and was ultimately struck by the train, the report said.

It’s noted in the report that CSX representatives on scene later viewed the train’s dash camera, which showed Carswell stumbling from left to right as the train drew closer.

A toxicology report prepared by the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office indicates Carswell tested positive for amphetamine and methamphetamine.

James Risner

On the morning of March 10, Middletown police responded to the area of Mohawk Street and Waneta Avenue on the report of a dead body next to the railroad tracks.

According to a police report, officers determined the victim, identified as James Risner, 51, of Middletown, had likely been struck sometime during the night. Risner’s address was listed as a house nearby the scene, the report states.

Officers entered the home and discovered what authorities said was drug paraphernalia and possible evidence of drug use, according to the police report.

Officers contacted Norfolk Southern to determine that the train which likely struck Risner had traveled through the area around 11 p.m. the previous evening.

A toxicology report on Risner is pending.

David Sparks

Around 1:30 p.m. March 3, officers with the Fairborn Police Department were dispatched to the East Xenia Drive railroad crossing after a report from Norfolk Southern of a person struck by a train.

Officers discovered the body of David Sparks, 66, of Fairborn, lying near the tracks, according to a police report.

The train’s conductor and engineer, who were on site after stopping the train following the incident, said that as the train crossed over East Xenia Drive, they noticed a person lying on the tracks.

Despite sounding the horns to warn the subject, he did not move, they said.

The reporting officer stated he observed the smell of alcohol at and near where the body was discovered, as well as a plastic bag containing an unopened bottle of vodka.

However, it is unclear if alcohol consumption played a role in the incident as toxicology results for the victim are pending.