NOKOMIS, Ill. (AP) — Five people in their 70s and 80s died after a freight train hit their minivan as they returned from an ice cream social in central Illinois, Illinois State Police said Thursday.
The person driving the silver minivan failed to yield to the oncoming Union Pacific train at a rail crossing near Nokomis on Wednesday evening, Christian County and state police said. The front of the train struck the driver's side of the van, according to a preliminary investigation. Nokomis is about 80 miles (130 kilometers) northeast of St. Louis.
State police identified the victims as Herbert J. Castle, John A. Castle, Mary H. Castle, Nell R. Castle and Mary M. Pugsley, all from the nearby city of Pana.
Christian County Sheriff Bruce Kettelkamp says Herbert and Nell were husband and wife, as were John and Mary Castle. He said Mary Pugsley was a family friend.
Three people were pronounced dead at the scene and two were taken to St. Louis-area hospitals where they died.
Police said the victims' ages ranged from 77 to 89. Police didn't identify the minivan's driver.
"The people in the vehicle had been at an ice-cream social out in the country," Kettelkamp told the (Decatur) Herald & Review.
The rural crossing does not have lights or a crossing arm, Kettlekamp said, adding there were thunderstorms in the area, but conditions at the time were clear.
Union Pacific Railroad spokesman Calli Hite said the crossing is classified as a public crossing and is marked with a yield sign and a crossbuck sign.
State police said the train crashed into the driver's side of the van.
Kettelkamp said John and Mary Castle were grandparents of one of his deputies. He described the Castles as friendly people who were hard-working and regular churchgoers. He said anytime he saw Mary Castle, she was quick to give him a hug.
"There are a lot of people with heavy hearts in Christian County," Kettelkamp said. "They are just wonderful people and did a lot for the community, and are really, really going to be missed."