In the early evening of Tuesday, July 10, 2001, Christy Male had left her job at the American Cancer Society, picked up a six pack of beer and was driving to a friends house in Walton, Kentucky to discuss upcoming fundraising ideas.
As you head north on Locust Street, there's a sharp curve that the base of a hill near a group of houses. There's a double set of railroad tracks that separate the houses from each other. Trees, bushes and brush line both sides. There are no lights or gates; just a crossbuck sign. It's a country road.
As she drove across the tracks, an unsuspecting Christy was hit by a Norfolk Southern train traveling at 45 miles per hour. It flipped her Ford Contour on its back. The noise stirred the neighborhood. Friends ran to her aid as she faded in and out a consciousness. EMT arrived a short time after and rushed her to the hospital.
Unfortunately she died. Christy was just four days shy of turning 26.
In the 15 years since my friend passed away so tragically, I have learned from the Federal Railroad Administration that highway-rail incidents and trespass causalities have risen every year since 2012. That's a disturbing trend. You will notice that other safety factors are improving like human error accidents (they are down), despite increase in ridership on passenger trains and freight train trips. But more trains and not enough rails guards and signs with lights are still killing people. More people actually.
What frustrates me still all these years later is basically this simple idea; my friend lost her life because people didn't cut down some trees and put in a light. While progress is being made by installing more guard rails and signs, much more is needed since every three hours a person or a car is hit by a train.
Christy was the oldest of five children to Greg and Cindy Male, and was their only daughter. She grew up on the west side of Cincinnati and attended McAuley High School. She had a beautiful voice that was only surpassed by her beautiful face and personality and the way she made friends so easily. We spent practically every day together for two years at Xavier. We sang in the choir together. I tagged along on the weekends while she sang at Mass. We partied all the time and she with two other friends drove up to celebrate my 21st birthday. We went to weddings together, we discussed relationships together, we quietly judged people together. Christy was the best; the type of friend who is with you no matter what. She brought out the best in you even if that hurt a little.
I miss her dearly.
Railroad safety is not something that is at the top of anyone's mind really. Even for me it's only a topic I think about this time of year. I try not to remember the day I found out about Christy's death. 2001 as whole was not a fun year . Three months before my Mom suffered a massive heart attack on Easter that required a quadruple bypass. Two months after Christy passed, 9/11 occurred.
I took a break from talking to God for about a year. Never lost faith, but wanted to search for why all of these things were happening. I still don't have an answer. I suspect I never will.
I believe my reconciliation with everything occurred because I was reminded of my relationships with Christy and my Mom. Both had helped shaped me as a man of faith. God heals wounds. Check out the Gospels and see all the healing Jesus does.
Christy's death did spur more minor regulations on railroad safety overall. The city worked to cut back on the vegetation where she was killed, and painted a giant "RR" sign just before you reach the bend in the road. Her legacy lives within me that's for sure. I spoke to my Mom about Christy the other day, and she talks about a bottle of wine that Christy gave her. I'm pretty sure I drank the contents, but Mom kept the bottle and puts a dime in it when she can. It reminds her of how lucky we are to have known her. To remember all of the happy times and thank God she is a part of our lives.