COAL CITY — Guidance counselors and social workers were assisting Coal City Unit District 1 students and staff with the accidental death Saturday of recent part-time hire Joshua T. Cumming.
The 27-year-old began working in the district two weeks ago as a one-on-one aide to a special education student. Cumming died when struck by a BNSF Railroad train while walking on the tracks just after 3 a.m. April 23.
“It was an unfortunate incident,” Grundy County Coroner John Callahan noted, saying that nothing related to the death appears suspicious at this time.
The accident took place on the tracks just south of Illinois 113, a little west of Coal City’s boundary with the village of Diamond to the east, and near the Oak Street railroad crossing permanently closed to traffic three to four years ago.
“A very, very tragic thing,” Coal City School District 1 Superintendent Dr. Kent Bugg said Monday.
“He was a graduate of Coal City High School a few years ago. A couple of weeks ago, the district hired him as an aide to a one-on-one special education student. He worked with us the last couple of weeks part-time.”
Cumming was to graduate next month from Illinois State University with a degree in economics and business. During his high school career, he participated in football, baseball and golf. He loved all sports, and played softball at both Carbon Hill and Joliet.
The coroner’s office is working on finding the cause of the incident.
“He was on the tracks, walking home. Indications were he was calling for someone to give him a ride, then he decided to walk. We’re not sure of where he was when he called for a ride. He wasn’t clear as to where he was at,” Callahan said.
The autopsy was Monday. The investigation was complicated over the weekend by the fact it was Easter Sunday. Also, there was no school Monday because of the religious holiday.
Callahan said there was no indication Cumming was wearing earbuds, which could have prevented him from hearing the train’s approach.
District 1 counselors and social workers were available today at the high school for anyone who had attended class with Cumming or taken part in athletics with him.
Also, counselors and social workers were at Coal City Grade School, where the victim’s mother, Sandy Hennessy of Coal City, is a fourth-grade teacher.
“Unfortunately, this is one of those things that happens, and you have to deal with it,” Bugg said. “Everyone was ready to go this morning to help make a difference.”
Both Coal City Mayor Neal Nelson and Police Chief Keith Hefner paid tribute to Cumming at the regular village council meeting Monday evening.
“This just goes to show how fragile life is,” Nelson said. “There’s danger all around us. Danger from the railroad is not going to go away — it’s only going to get worse. Stay off the tracks.”
Nelson said a plan is to work with the schools to educate students on the dangers of railroads.
“The man was in the prime of his life,” Hefner said. “This is just a solemn reminder of how dangerous trains are.”
He also commended local police and fire and ambulance personnel “who handled the case of a person they knew.”
Hefner will meet with the BNSF to look at options for warning signs at the tracks, and on educating the public on the dangers of railroads.
The investigation into the incident is under the direction of Callahan’s office, Coal City police and BNSF railroad police. Authorities were assisted at the scene of the accident by the Coal City Fire and EMS Department.