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Local News

Metra train kills at least 1 near Joliet's Pilcher Park

‘Kids’ appeared to be trying to outrun train above Pilcher Park in Joliet

A Metra commuter train struck and killed at least one individual Wednesday night in Joliet, as the engineer described “kids” appearing to try to outrun the train at the trestle bridge that goes over Hickory Creek in Pilcher Park.

The incident likely occurred about 7 p.m. Wednesday on the Metra Rock Island line bridge, Metra spokeswoman Meg Reile said.

Metra officials were alerted at
7:14 p.m. that train No. 419, which had left the LaSalle Street station at
5:40 p.m. and was scheduled to arrive at 6:52 p.m. in Joliet, had struck two pedestrians, Reile said.

The train engineer told officials he saw “three kids” standing alongside the track before they began to run in front of the westbound train, “like they could outrun it,” Reile said.

The engineer put the train into emergency stopping mode, but he knew he hit one person, she said.

“At that point, it was too late,” Reile said. “Stay off the tracks. This is completely preventable.”

The body of Jacob A. Manka, 17, of Mokena, soon was found. Will County Coroner’s Office officials
pronounced him dead at 8:14 p.m., and an autopsy was scheduled for Thursday.

Metra officials believe a second individual might have been knocked off the bridge. Metra, Joliet police and Will County Sheriff’s police, and Joliet fire crews searched Wednesday night until bad weather rolled into the area.

Police could be seen again Thursday morning speaking with a man in the area of Highland Park Drive and Route 30.

Firefighters were back at dawn searching Hickory Creek with rescue crews. They staged their equipment at the Ingall’s Park A.C. parking lot, located at 20 N. Park Road.

The incident occurred at the trestle bridge over Hickory Creek near Pilcher Park, East Joliet Fire Chief Robert Scholtes said.

About 100 firefighters were involved in the search, mostly water tech teams and divers, Scholtes said.

“We’ve looked from the trestle bridge all the way to Briggs Street,” Scholtes said about 11:30 a.m. Teams would move farther down the creek as the search continued.

The water is shallow but swift moving because of the heavy rains, so diving was not possible, Scholtes said. Water techs trained to work in “rough water” were in the creek and searching the banks while more help was on the way.

“We’re in the process of bringing in a helicopter,” Scholtes said.

Several fire departments were on the scene, including Joliet, and drones were being used to help in the search.

“We are using drones to fly over the Hickory Creek area to try to find the individual,” Joliet Fire Chief Joe Formhals said.

A spokesman for Metra, which is heading the search, noted water conditions made the search hazardous.

“The creek is flowing very quickly now, so it’s very dangerous work,” Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said.

“They’re being very cautious,” she said.

Gillis said crews were sweeping several stretches of the creek at once, working their way downstream. He called it an interagency operation.

• Herald-News reporters Alex Ortiz, Bob Okon and Felix Sarver contributed to this report.

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