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Rueful night recalled at moving memorial

March 18, 2019 GMT

“I’m not sorry I’m crying. I’ve relived that night thousands of times in my heart, just like many of you have.”

The night former Bourbonnais Mayor Grover Brooks refers to is the fateful evening of the March 15, 1999, when a deadly Amtrak derailment took place in the village.

“That night there was a train that came through with a lot of strangers on it. Those strangers were met by people in our area, ‘The Village of Friendship,’ and that’s what they found.”

Brooks, who now lives in Florida, was one of the speakers during the 20th anniversary memorial service held Saturday at the Memorial Garden at the corner of Illinois Route 102 and Route 45-52 in Bourbonnais.

The City of New Orleans, a train of two locomotives, one baggage car, 11 passenger cars and two sleeper cars, was carrying 198 passengers, an Amtrak crew of 17, two off-duty Amtrak employees and two off-duty Illinois Central Railroad employees when it struck the loaded flatbed truck.

The tragic accident resulted in 11 deaths and 122 seriously injured.

“It’s hard to believe 20 years have passed. Even after 20 years, this tragic event will always be a part of our community. We came together then, and we are coming together today in remembrance,” Bourbonnais Mayor Paul Schore said. “Thank you to all those who were involved for your bravery, selflessness and heroism. The community came together and immediately responded with unbelievable rescue efforts.”

Schore added, “The entire River Valley came together. Though the tragedy was enormous, the rescue efforts reaffirmed our belief in community.”

“We all know where we were 20 years ago on that night. I remember the call, I remember my first step on the scene and the many days that followed. As we remember, we must also remember those who can not be here today,” said Joseph Beard, who was Bourbonnais police chief at the time of the crash. “We can only hope that those who suffered losses can take comfort in knowing a large group of people hold them in our hearts everyday.”

Bourbonnais Fire Protection District Chief Ed St. Louis added, “We continue to remember the people on the train that night. It was a very challenging incident. Birmingham Steel (now Nucor Steel) employees were pivotal. They were the first on the scene and pulled people from the train. There were people and fire on both sides of the train.”

One of those survivors, Jesse Anne Lipscomb, drove all night from Tennessee to attend the service. Jesse Anne lost both of her sisters in the crash, Rainey and Lacey.

“Bourbonnais has had such an impact on me and in my life. I’m here today by the grace of God. No matter how dark the night gets, there is light.”

She added, “Twenty years ago the ground shook and the Earth stood still. The people of Bourbonnais put the lives of complete strangers above themselves. That night, someone carried a little girl without shoes to safety. I never learned his name, but I will never forget his actions.”

“May friends comfort you; may faith in God uphold you; may good and loving memories hold your heart,” said Brooks to end the ceremony.