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Hurricane High student struck, killed by train Tuesday

Feb. 01, 2012 @ 07:14 AM

HURRICANE, W.Va. -- The city of Hurricane was devastated Tuesday when a 16-year-old boy was hit and killed by a train.

The boy was identified as Jacob Ball, a student at Hurricane High School.

The incident was reported to Putnam County dispatchers at 3:50 p.m. Tuesday. Dispatchers said they received a report that a pedestrian had been struck by the train on the tracks near Tackett's Branch Road, about a quarter mile away from the high school.

"It's a tragedy for Hurricane High School and the whole community of Hurricane to lose one of our own," Mayor Scott Edwards said. "Right now, all we can do is come out and support the student's family in this time of tragedy, and once we find out what happened, we will make sure it never happens again."

The Rev. Cheryl Winter, of the nearby St. Timothy's Episcopal Church, stopped at the scene as she passed by. She met with Ball's father, whom she described to be in disbelief, horror and shock.

"It's a horrible tragedy," she said.

Dalton Rutledge and Steven and Madeleine Schempp were among the students who gathered Tuesday at the scene.

"It's just saddening and eye opening," Steven Schempp said. "It's just unexpected."

Rutledge and the Schempp siblings described Ball as a quiet person who loved music.

"You would see that kid everywhere on his bike. He'd put his headphones in like he always does, goes into his own little world," Rutledge said.

Rutledge recalled first meeting Ball at a birthday party several years ago. He described the victim as a friendly guy.

"He doesn't harm anybody; he sticks to himself," Rutledge said. "You can go up to him and start a full-out conversation, and he acts like he's known you for 10 years."

The incident was witnessed by students from the nearby Hurricane High School.

The community almost immediately started pulling together. Winter was one of at least three area pastors on scene, together with city and state officials. Edwards said it is that bond of community that will help Hurricane overcome tragedy.

"When we lose a child, a 16-year-old young man, in a very tight community, it affects everybody," he said. "Not just that young man's family and close friends. It really affects everybody in the community. We will all feel it."

The mayor's words are especially true in today's social networking age. Edwards said thousands of people knew about the teenager's death within an hour of the accident.

Edwards acknowledged Wednesday could be an exceptionally difficult day for students. The train fatality marks the second death of a student this year at Hurricane High School. Kara Sue Stowers, 17, died in early September due to injuries suffered in a vehicle accident between Hurricane and Winfield, W.Va.

School officials were not available at the scene, but Edwards said crisis counselors would be on hand Wednesday at Hurricane High and Hurricane Middle.

"It is very hard for the high school students," he said. "Losing one (classmate) this year, and now losing another. It's not good for a community. Not good for anybody, but we'll get through it. We'll get through it as a community and we'll make it."

The accident happened in a particularly narrow area as only several yards of grass and gravel separate the two-track railroad from the busy route also known as Teays Valley Road.

Hurricane High School and Hurricane City Hall are located within a mile of the scene.

Edwards, when asked what he would tell his own children, said railroad safety is a must. His office sits just yards from the railroad, and every so often he will see someone walking by. He said he and city police officers do their diligence to keep people off the tracks.

"It's just a tragedy that this had to happen," he said. "Railroad tracks are dangerous. That has to come out in this. There are dangers that exist."

Winter also spoke about train safety saying it would be impossible to fence every railroad track in her small, pedestrian-friendly town. She hopes the enduring lesson from Tuesday's accident is awareness. She explained everyone needs to realize the importance of being aware of their surroundings in every way, such as by sight and hearing.

Crews were able to begin moving the train at 5:49 p.m. That allowed them to begin opening nearby railroad crossings, which had been blocked for a significant period of time.

A CSX spokesperson said the rail company is cooperating with police in the investigation of the accident.

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