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Mattoon High School teen dead after vehicle, train collision

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HUMBOLDT -- A 16-year-old Mattoon High School student died Friday morning when his car was struck by an Amtrak train at a crossing in Humboldt.

John W. Nisbet III of Humboldt was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash, reported the Coles County Coroner's Office.

Mattoon school district Superintendent Larry Lilly issued a statement early Friday afternoon noting that Nisbet was an honor student, played junior varsity tennis, and was a member of the chess team.

"We send our sympathies, support and prayers to the family and friends of John Nisbet III," Lilly said. "Our school family has experienced this loss as well. We are all hurting."

Lilly added, "Anyone else involved in the incident as well as first responders are also in our thoughts."

The high school will arrange for local clergy, counselors and social workers to be available for any student or staff member who needs to talk or to just seek comfort "at this difficult time," the school district statement noted.

“As we have done in the past, our school district stands ready to help our students, staff and families in their time of need,” Lilly said.

The Coles County Sheriff's Office reported in a press release that emergency responders were dispatched at approximately 7:45 a.m. in response to a report of a collision involving a train and a car.

"Preliminary investigations show that the driver attempted to go around railroad crossing gates, causing the Amtrak train to collide with the vehicle," the Sheriff's Office reported. The accident investigation is ongoing.

Both Sheriff's Office Patrol Lt. Tyler Heleine and Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said none of the passengers or crew members on board the northbound train were injured by the collision. Magliari said there were 174 passengers on board at the time of the collision.

The collision appeared to have occurred on the south edge of Humboldt at the Southside Drive crossing, where components from the car were strewn about after the crash. The car was then pushed seven blocks north before the train came to a stop. Workers removed the car from in front of the train engine by approximately 11:15 a.m. Friday.

Magliari said the collision resulted in a City of New Orleans route train, Train 58, being delayed by more than four hours on its way to Chicago. He said Amtrak crews needed time to assess whether there was any damage to train and make any needed repairs. He said the train was able to continue northward without any equipment needed to be replaced.

Another northbound Amtrak train and a southbound freight train were delayed before the scene was cleared for train traffic.

While the City of of New Orleans train was still in Humboldt, emergency responders were dispatched at approximately 12:05 p.m. to a report of an unresponsive passenger on this train.

Cooks Mills Fire Protection District Chief Jim Hilgenberg said the passenger was having a medical issue that was not related to the collision. He said emergency responders found the passenger on the upper level of an observation car and had to carry this passenger down a narrow staircase. He said a Dunn's Ambulance crew took the passenger to Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center.

Hilgenberg said volunteer firefighters from the neighboring Cooks Mills and Humboldt districts are routinely dispatched together to fires and accidents scenes. He said none of the firefighters who responded to the collision Friday morning knew the victim, but they were worried en route that it could have been one of their loves ones.

"You could tell they were all taking inventory of their loves ones and wondering where they might be," Hilgenberg said.

Other emergency responders at the scene were from the Illinois State Police, Mattoon Police Department, Canadian National Railway Police, and Mattoon Fire Department.

Records kept by the Federal Railroad Administration show that an Amtrak train was involved in a collision with an automobile on May 9, 1991, at the Elm Street crossing in Humboldt, just north of the Southside Drive crossing. The driver reportedly went around or through the crossing gate. The driver was injured and the automobile sustained $2,500 in damage.

JG-TC staff writer Jarad Jarmon contributed to this story.


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