The president of a wildlife-rescue organization says a Shiloh woman who was fatally struck by a MetroLink train had been called by Metro to remove an opossum from the tracks.
Metro officials, however, are declining to comment on the circumstances surrounding the death of the 58-year-old Shiloh woman.
Sandra Konopelski, a longtime animal rescue and rehabilitation specialist, was on the tracks when she was struck and killed by a westbound train at 8:20 a.m. Friday.
Metro communication director Patti Beck said Wednesday the agency wouldn’t comment while their investigation is ongoing.
“These investigations take time, sometimes a year or more,” Beck said. “Our stance hasn’t changed. There’s nothing we can talk about at this point.”
Angel Wintrode, president of the Bi-State Wildlife Hotline, said she doesn’t have documentation to prove that it was Metro who called Konopelski about the animal, but she said “I have a text from (Konopelski) saying, ‘Metro called, I’m going to get an opossum.’”
“I know that when she’s gone out before, there’s been a person who knows the (trains’) timetable. And usually that person would be with her, or at least nearby,” Wintrode said.
But St. Clair County Deputy Coroner Danny Haskenhoff said Wednesday that investigators at the scene did not see any Metro employee who may have accompanied Konopelski.
“As far as we know, there was not (a Metro employee present),” Haskenhoff said.
He added that Konopelski was equipped with thick leather gloves, a large fishing net and a box to transport an animal, but investigators didn’t find an opossum at the scene.
Wintrode said Bi-State Wildlife holds no ill will toward Metro.
“We’re not upset with them. We don’t have to have someone to blame for this,” she said. “This is the most bizarre event. It’s tragic and awful. Whoever called Sandie, I’m sure they’re in their own private hell right now.”
Windtrode added that Konopelski’s death was “a fluke. A terrible fluke, but a fluke” that’s a consequence of the risks animal rescuers readily assume when they go out on a call.
“These are agencies that we beg, ‘please don’t let this animal die on the tracks,’” Wintrode said. “We ask the officials to let us take that risk. Sometimes it’s a calculated risk and sometimes it’s a bad decision.”
A visitation for Konopelski is scheduled for 4 p.m. Friday at Schildknecht Funeral Home at 301 S. Lincoln Ave., O’Fallon. A second, hour-long visitation will precede a 10:30 a.m. funeral Saturday at Faith Family Church at 704 N. Green Mount Road in Belleville.