“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Bourbonnais in Kankakee County, Illinois — The American Midwest (Great Lakes)

A Night of Tragedy and Heroism

Monday, March 15, 1999

A Night of Tragedy and Heroism Marker<br>(<i>left panel</i>) image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Cosmos Mariner, June 23, 2021
1. A Night of Tragedy and Heroism Marker
(left panel)
[left panel]
Darkness engulfed the frozen landscape of the northern edge of Bourbonnais on the evening of Monday, March 15, 1999, when the Amtrak train, the City of New Orleans, heading south from Chicago, collided at the McKnight Road crossing with a flatbed truck laden with 22 tons of steel.

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 at 9:48 p.m. The tragic accident resulted in the deaths of 11 passengers and many serious injuries to other passengers and train personnel.

The first emergency response was a Bourbonnais Police Officer and a contingent of workers from the adjacent Birmingham Steel plant. Minutes later, members of the Bourbonnais Fire Protection District arrived. The rescuers heroically entered the burning and twisted sleeper car, the locomotives and five derailed passenger cars to rescue passengers and the train’s engineer.

In the ensuing moments after the crash,

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146 personnel from seven police agencies, 16 fire departments and 47 emergency service agencies responded in accordance with the design of the Kankakee County Disaster Plan. Help came from as far as 100 miles away.

Later that night, Amtrak officials arrived, setting up headquarters in the Hampton Inn. Uninjured passengers and families of the injured and deceased passengers were cared for at the Holiday Inn Express, Lee’s Inn and Fairfield Inn.

Injured passengers were triaged at the nearby Blain’s Farm and Fleet store and the Bourbonnais Upper Grade Center. They were quickly transported to either Riverside Medical Center or Provena St. Mary’s Hospital for treatment. The Red Cross and Salvation Army provided services to those in need and assistance to the rescue workers.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency also provided aid. Governor George Ryan visited the scene the following day to lend whatever support possible to the emergency workers.

Despite the heroic efforts of these tireless rescuers, 11 passengers died.

The deceased, who will be remembered forever, are:

Helena Adkins, 42, Bremerton, Washington
Wendy Vant, 42, Bremerton Washington
Leona Vant, 71, Bremerton Washington
Vergil Vant, 76, Bremerton, Washington
Marie Munson, 64, Mount Prospect, Illinois
Kelichi Nomura, 20, Tokushima, Japan
Jessica Tickle, 11, Nesbit, Mississippi

A Night of Tragedy and Heroism Marker<br>(<i>right panel</i>) image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Cosmos Mariner, June 23, 2021
2. A Night of Tragedy and Heroism Marker
(right panel)
Lee Bonnin, 46, Nesbit, Mississippi
Rainey Lipscomb, 10, Lake Cormorant, Mississippi
Lacey Lipscomb, 8, Lake Cormorant, Mississippi
Sheena Dowe, 22, Jackson, Mississippi

The entire River Valley came together, giving of themselves and their possessions to help those they did not even know. Through this tragedy, the heroism and selflessness shown by the rescue efforts reaffirmed our belief in the innate goodness of humanity and the blessing of the wonderful people who live in our community.

[right panel]

The 2000 Mayor’s Humanitarian Award
Monday, March 15, 1999 is a date the people of
the Village of Bourbonnais will never forget.

Eleven people died here and many more were seriously injured during the derailment of the City of New Orleans Amtrak train. We mourn those who perished in this tragedy, and remember with concern and care those who convalesced for a time in our community before returning to their homes.

The immediate response of the 30 employees from Birmingham Steel who were working in the plant just yards away, joined by Bourbonnais Police Officers and Bourbonnais Fire Protection District Firefighters was nothing short of heroic. These men and women put themselves in harm’s way, without regard for their own personal safety, to rescue and care for those who were injured and in danger.


A Night of Tragedy and Heroism Marker<br>(<i>left panel • wide view</i>) image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Cosmos Mariner, June 23, 2021
3. A Night of Tragedy and Heroism Marker
(left panel • wide view)
(Main Street Northwest in background)
recognition is given to Fire Chief Mike Harshbarger for his leadership in coordinating the efforts of all the courageous men and women from the fire departments and emergency services throughout the Kankakee River Valley and beyond.

Special recognition is given to Police Chief Joseph Beard for his leadership in coordinating the Bourbonnais Police Department with the Kankakee County Sheriff’s Department, Illinois State Police, the Bradley, Kankakee, Grant Park and Manteno Police Departments, as well as their Auxiliaries and those of other law enforcement agencies.

Riverside Medical Center and Provena St. Mary’s Hospital are to be commended for the outstanding medical care provided both on the scene and at their facilities. Gratitude is given to Blain’s Farm and Fleet and Bourbonnais School District #53 for providing staging areas and shelter for the survivors and emergency personnel during that fateful night. Appreciation is extended to Olivet Nazarene University for providing a hearing room for the use of the National Transportation Safety Board.

There were so many individuals, retail stores, hotels, restaurants and dry cleaners providing comfort, care, shelter, food, clothing and other donations during the emergency that it would be impossible to list them all here, but their generosity and help will always be remembered.

We thank the area funeral directors for their

A Night of Tragedy and Heroism Marker<br>(<i>right panel • wide view</i>) image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Cosmos Mariner, June 23, 2021
4. A Night of Tragedy and Heroism Marker
(right panel • wide view)
(US Highway 45/52 in background)
assistance and for the comfort and counseling they offered victims’ families and survivors and their families. We also are grateful to College Church of the Nazarene and Grace Community United Methodist Church for the memorial services they held and to all of the area churches for their prayers and support.

We would be remiss not to recognize Governor George Ryan and the governments of our neighboring communities for their support and encouragement. WE cannot forget the comfort and solace offered by the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, the clergy and the officials from Amtrak who ministered to all the needs of both victims and families, not only the night of the tragedy, but also throughout the days and weeks that followed.

On behalf of the Board of Trustees, and the entire Village of Bourbonnais, from the bottom of our hearts we thank you, one and all, known and unknown, from every walk of life, who responded so quickly and with such love and humanity.

We are very proud of our entire community and it is only fitting that these people, all of them, be the recipients of the 2000 Mayor’s Humanitarian Award.

Mayor Grover Brooks

Clerk Brian Simeur • Treasurer Ron Riebe • Trustee Bob Latham • Trustee Gary Residori
Trustee Dale Oswalt • Trustee Vera Amiano • Trustee Paul Schora • Trustee George Anderson

Presented March 25, 2000 A.D.
Bourbonnais, Illinois
A Night of Tragedy and Heroism Marker Panels image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Cosmos Mariner, June 23, 2021
5. A Night of Tragedy and Heroism Marker Panels
(Main Street Northwest in background)

Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: DisastersRailroads & Streetcars. A significant historical date for this entry is March 15, 1999.
Location. 41° 9.306′ N, 87° 52.725′ W. Marker is in Bourbonnais, Illinois, in Kankakee County. Marker is at the intersection of Main Street Northwest (Illinois Route 102) and South Main Street (U.S. 52), on the right when traveling east on Main Street Northwest. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Bourbonnais IL 60914, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 7 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Noël Le Vasseur (within shouting distance of this marker); Jardin aux Potages (approx. half a mile away); Dedicated to the Memory (approx. half a mile away); Bourbonnais Grove (approx. half a mile away); The Durham-Perry Farmstead Home (approx. half a mile away); The Durham-Perry Family Legacy (approx. half a mile away); Durham-Perry Farmstead (approx. 0.6 miles away); Rockville Illinois (approx. 6.6 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Bourbonnais.
Also see . . .  1999 Bourbonnais, Illinois, Train Crash. Wikipedia entry:
While operating through Bourbonnais, the train's engineer observed a semi-trailer truck loaded with steel slowly crossing the tracks at a grade crossing. When the engineer realized the truck was not going to clear the tracks in time, he engaged the train's
The Wreck Of The City Of New Orleans At Bourbonnais image. Click for more information.
Photographed By Larry Gertner
6. The Wreck Of The City Of New Orleans At Bourbonnais
Along The Rails website entry:
This link presents some photos of the wreckage.
The National Transportation Safety Board investigated the Bourbonnais wreck and placed the blame on the driver of the truck, finding that he had driven around the gates in an attempt to beat the train. One important thing came of the wreck for Amtrak passengers: it was as a result of this wreck that every sleeping car room now has an emergency exit window.
(Submitted on July 18, 2021, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.)
Click for more information.
emergency brake. However, the train was traveling at 79 mph and was unable to stop in time. Both of the train's locomotives and eleven of the train's fourteen passenger cars derailed; the derailed cars struck freight cars on an adjacent siding. Eleven people aboard the train were killed and another 121 were transported to nearby hospitals with serious injuries. (Submitted on July 18, 2021, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.) 
Credits. This page was last revised on July 18, 2021. It was originally submitted on July 17, 2021, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida. This page has been viewed 323 times since then and 123 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5. submitted on July 17, 2021, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.   6. submitted on July 18, 2021, by Larry Gertner of New York, New York.

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Sep. 25, 2023