A Shiloh woman who was struck by a MetroLink train and killed Friday in Swansea may have been trying to rescue a stray animal.
Authorities identified the deceased as Sandra Konopelski, 58, of Shiloh. Acquaintances described Konopelski as a dedicated animal-rescue volunteer.
MetroLink officials said a person walking on the tracks east of the Swansea station was hit by a westbound train at 8:20 a.m.
Swansea Police Chief Mike Arnold said police located the woman’s car nearby. Arnold said it’s unclear why she didn’t hear the train and get out of the way.
Pam Bequette, owner of Lucky’s Bar and Grill in Swansea, said Konopelski was an animal-rescue volunteer. Bequette knew Konopelski through her husband, Marc Konopelski. Bequette recognized Sandra Konopelski’s car, a Toyota Prius, sitting in the bar’s parking lot.
Bequette said she believes Konopelski got a call early Friday about a stray animal near the MetroLink tracks and was trying to make sure it was recovered.
“I saw her car and recognized the license plate, and it all came together,” Bequette said. “It’s terrible that she was trying to do a good thing and this happened to her.”
Adele Moore, founder of Treehouse Wildlife Center in Dow, said Konopelski was “a tireless advocate for wildlife in the metro-east.”
“It’s going to be a big blow to wildlife rehabilitation in our area,” Moore said. “She made a big difference.”
That’s a sentiment echoed by Shiloh mayor Jim Vernier, who said he was “in total shock.”
“I can’t believe it happened,” Vernier said. “She was such a caring person for animals.”
Vernier said Konopelski would drop everything to help an animal if someone asked.
“I could call her at 3:00 in the morning and she’d be there to help an animal,” he said. “I don’t know who’s going to fill those shoes. Everybody called her.”
St. Clair County Deputy Coroner Danny Haskenhoff pronounced Konopelski dead at the scene. She died of blunt-force trauma, an autopsy showed.
A bike path is situated along the MetroLink tracks but the path is separated from the rails by a fence. Emergency workers cut the fence when they arrived, to get to the victim, but there was nothing they could do to save her.
Arnold said the driver of the train was “extremely shook up.”
About 15 passengers were aboard the train. Authorities used an all-terrain vehicle to transport the passengers from the halted train to the MetroLink station, where they boarded buses.
MetroLink service was suspended between the Memorial and Belleville stations for about two hours while officials investigated the death. Trains were running again by about 10:20 a.m. Friday.
The woman’s body was removed from the scene about 10:10 a.m. and loaded into a hearse. The coroner’s office said routine toxicology tests were being conducted.
Brent Kohlenberger of Swansea, who was riding a different MetroLink train Friday morning, said the driver of his train made an announcement over the public-address system about the accident.
“The driver announced over the intercom that a train behind us had just hit a pedestrian, and requested the prayers of those of us who were on the train,” Kohlenberger said.
Kohlenberger said the driver was “obviously choking back some tears” while making the announcement. “Clearly, it hit a touchy spot that no driver would want to be involved in,” he said.
Kohlenberger, who works at AT&T in St. Louis, said he has sometimes jogged along the MetroLink route. He said the section where the fatality happened is the “hilliest part” of the MetroLink route in Illinois.
MetroLink service was suspended between the Memorial and Belleville stations. For a while, delays of up to an hour were being reported by Metro as they shuttled via bus between the Memorial and Belleville MetroLink stations.
A crime-scene unit from Illinois State Police was investigating the incident with assistance from Swansea Police Department and St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department.
Return to the BND.com for more on this developing story.