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Gervais rallies to support train accident victims family

The Gervais community gathered this weekend to raise money for the family of a teenager killed last week when he was struck by an Amtrak train.by: SUBMITTED - Diego Rodriguez, 13, is pictured in a recent photo. The Gervais teenager was killed Oct. 15 when he was hit by a train.

A spaghetti dinner Sunday night fed 351 people, plus more who helped raise money for the family to pay the unexpected funeral costs of 13-year-old Diego Rodriguez.

“When it happened, we just thought, we have to do something,” said co-organizer Shandel Jump, who is an after school site coordinator for the district. “We came up with a plan and donations kept coming in. This has been all volunteer run.”

The district provided the meal and facility for the event, while Walmart donated paper products, Costco in Wilsonville donated cookies and Bauman Farms and Sacred Heart Parish provided doughnuts.

The fundraiser came five days after Diego and a 14-year-old friend were walking on the tracks around 7 p.m. north of Gervais.

According to police, the boys thought the train was traveling on an adjacent track until it got closer and, by then, it was too late for Diego, a Samuel Brown Academy student, to get out of the way.

The train was carrying 65 passengers and was 14 cars long. No one else was injured.

The incident occurred near Fourth Street, just north of Ivy Avenue in Gervais. The train engineer, who was operating the Amtrak from Seattle to Eugene, reportedly saw a shadow on the tracks as the train began to enter Gervais and put on the emergency brake, the fastest means of stopping a moving train, according to railroad officials.

The speed of the train has not been confirmed, but it’s not uncommon for Amtrak trains to travel at a high rate of speed, officials said.by: LINDSAY KEEFER - Andrea  Barrera (foreground) and Diana Kennedy volunteered Sunday night at Diego Rodriguez's memorial fundraiser. Both knew Diego, 13, who died last week, and said about volunteering at the event: 'You just do it.'

“It’s all been very humbling,”?said Jump. “The hardest thing is to watch the kids suffering.”

After the Tuesday night tragedy, counselors were made available to students, particularly at Gervais Middle School, where most of Diego’s friends attended.

“Kids started coming in at 7:45 (a.m.) and we weren’t ready for them,”?Ann O’Connell, director of special services, reported to the Gervais School Board Thursday night. “They just kept pouring in so fast we had to move it to the library. And these kids weren’t just sad, they were sobbing.”

Superintendent Rick Hensel said that the district started Wednesday off with three grief counselors, but because of the flow of students seeking help, there were nine counselors in the schools by the end of the day.

Counselors were lodged at Gervais Middle School and at the district office, near Samuel Brown Academy, where Diego attended eighth grade.

“In this community, everybody is family,” Hensel said. “Here is a kid, an orphan, who has been literally raised by his community. And the community’s taking it pretty hard.”

Diego’s mom, a single mother, died in a car crash when he was 5. Since then, he and his younger brother have been raised by his aunt and uncle.

Diana Kennedy has worked in the after school program with Diego since he was 5, so when the opportunity came to volunteer at his memorial fundraiser, “it was an easy decision,” she said. “I just asked when and where.”

Friends and staff members, including Kennedy, remember Diego as a spunky, big-hearted kid whose signature look was a bowtie and who preferred people call him “Moose.”

“You don’t see characters like that often,”?Kennedy said. “He had a huge heart.”

Local officials are discussing how to bring safety awareness to a community that is familiar with these kinds of incidents.

“I?talked to Kathy Figley (mayor of Woodburn) about working together to possibly get a grant to put a fence up,”?said Gervais Mayor Shanti Platt, who also volunteered at the spaghetti fundraiser. “The (police) chief is also working with community outreach to come into the schools and talk about railroad safety.”

Walking on railroad tracks is not just dangerous, but it’s also a crime punishable by up to one year in prison, according to Marion County Sheriff’s Office.

“It’s kind of a tradition around here to walk on the tracks toward Woodburn,” Hensel said. “So it’s important we have someone talk about safety.”

Platt said the city had already been working on ways to increase safety around the tracks, which run right down the middle of Gervais.

“It was already on our minds when this happened,”?she said. “We looked into trying to make it a quiet zone, but if blowing the whistle is the only warning we get, then we can’t do that. One child’s life lost is one too many.”

Additional contributions can be made to “The Diego Rodriguez Memorial Account” at the Woodburn Wells Fargo Bank, account no. 6947186992.




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