Thursday, October 26, 2000

School mourns boy killed by train

Letters to say 'we loved Vinny'

By Sue Kiesewetter
Enquirer Contributor

        FAIRFIELD — One chair remained atop a table all day Wednesday in Susan Ventling's fourth-grade classroom at East Elementary School.

        Slowly, the table began filling with messages of love to the family of 10-year-old Vincent “Vinny” Fugate, who was killed Tuesday near his Ivy Lane home when his go-cart was struck by a train.

Vinny Fugate
Vinny Fugate
        “A-plus-plus student,” “We love you” and “We're thinking of you” were scribbled by Vinny's classmates on a piece of paper with a large orange and purple drawing of Vinny inside a giant heart.

        Individual notes were placed on the table.

        “I'm sorry about the acedent. Vinny was a good kid. Now he's in a better place,” wrote 9-year-old Lacey Rogers. “He was a freind to almost everybody in the class.”

        Lacey said she first learned about the accident Tuesday when she drove past the site with her grandmother. She remembers being scared and hoping the go-cart she saw didn't belong to anyone from school. She learned on the bus Wednesday morning it had been Vinny's.

[photo] Fourth-grader Lacey Rogers holds a bear that was passed among East Elementary School students on Wednesday to help them cope with the death.
(Ernest Coleman photos)
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        “Everybody started to cry when the principal told us. Even the boys, and you don't see that much,” Lacey said. “Me and my friends really wanted to do something nice for his parents. So we wrote sweet letters to let them know we loved Vinny.”

        Fairfield police say Vinny was riding his go-cart alongside a moving train when he lost control and the go-cart flipped onto the tracks, said Fairfield Police Lt. Ken Colburn.

        The train, dragging the go-cart, traveled about one-fifth of a mile before it stopped. The boy's body was thrown clear, Lt. Colburn said.

        The Norfolk Southern train was going 25-27 mph when it hit Vinny, said Rudy Husband, spokesman for Norfolk Southern.

        It had originated in Detroit and was southbound to Atlanta with two locomotives and 79 freight cars.

        “That train crew could not have avoided (hitting the boy),” Mr. Husband said. “They did not see the go-cart until just before impact.”

        Several Ivy Lane residents said they often saw Vinny and his brother, Jesse, a Fairfield Middle School student, riding the go-cart through the fields.

[photo] East Elementary School students on Wednesday left messages remembering fourth-grader Vinny Fugate
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        At school, Vinny was a happy child who was shy but “loved to joke around,” said Principal Laura Meibers.

        “He'd hug me in the hallway ... we had a good rapport.”

        Mrs. Ventling said students didn't ask a lot of questions about the accident, but “there was a lot of crying. I just cried with them.”

        Trespassing on railroad tracks is a continual problem, police and and railroad officials say.

        Ohio has one of the nation's worst records for train-pedestrian fatalities — 14 in 1999, tied with Arizona for eighth-worst. Trains killed 479 trespassers last year, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

        Police periodically crack down on trespassers to make people aware of the dangers. Last week, Hamilton police conducted an unannounced sweep on tracks in the city, rounding up 34 juveniles in a 3 1/2-hour period, said Officer Dave Crawford.

        Most trespassers police cite are adults. But juveniles are in the greatest peril, police say, because they often don't understand the dangers and take foolish risks.

        “Juveniles that live near railroad tracks become desensitized because it becomes part of their landscape. They tend to minimize the risk,” said Hamilton police Officer Don Taylor.


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