A Metra passenger killed Wednesday morning when a BNSF train crashed into a stalled truck was a loving grandmother, mom of three “very, very strong girls” and devoted sister and friend to many, according to the 72-year-old Downers Grove woman’s son in law.

Christina Lopez, of Downers Grove, was killed in the Clarendon Hills crash, according to the DuPage County coroner’s office. An autopsy was scheduled for Friday, according to the office.

“It’s obviously been an extremely sad and tragic experience,” said Jeff Klonowski, her son-in-law.

BNSF train 1242, which had originated from Downers Grove, collided with the truck about 8:10 a.m. Wednesday at Prospect Avenue, killing Lopez and injuring four others, including two passengers who had injuries that were not thought to be life-threatening, according to the coroner’s office and Metra spokeswoman Meg Thomas-Reile.

Lopez, or “Chris,” was the mother of three “very, very strong women” and doted on all five of her grandchildren. She had ten siblings and was “devoted” to all her sisters, one of whom she was on her way to visit in LaGrange when the accident happened.

“They were very close, very tight,” Klonowski said.

She watched Klonowski’s three kids: two girls who are 6 and 4 and 2-year-old son on a regular basis, sometimes multiple times a week.

“She would take the kids every Monday and babysit them as needed,” Klonowski said. “She was on-call for quick drop-offs. It’s very hard for them.”

Lopez had been divorced for many years had lived in downtown Downers Grove for the past six years or so. She grew up on the North Side of Chicago, primarily the Lakeview area, including near Southport Avenue and Roscoe Street.

The pride of her life were her daughters: Josephine, her twin sister Olivia and the eldest, America, all of whom she raised as a single mother while working hard in cleaning services for most of her career, Klonowski said.

Lopez retired about five years ago and moved to Downers Grove to be near her family.

Lopez was a tremendous cook. One of her best was chicken tacos with fried tortillas.

“She made a really mean potato salad,” Klonowski said, adding no one would be able to come close to the way she cooked.

She was “resilient” and the “glue” of the family, navigating relatives through celebrations, tragedy or disagreements, he said.

“We were very fortunate to have Mother’s Day with her. We had most of the extended family. It was a fabulous time with siblings, cousins and aunts. Little did we know what was going to transpire later this week,” Klonowski said. “We were blessed to have that time.”

While they realize it was a tragic accident, Klonowski believes it didn’t need to happen.

“This could have been prevented. We want to get answers but more importantly we want to help make a difference so that no family has to endure this again.”

Train 1242 had not been running its normal schedule and was running express to Union Station at the time, because of a mechanical failure that involved another train.

“It was expressing. … It wasn’t stopping at Clarendon Hills,” Thomas-Reile said. “They were shuffling around some of the service, I’m sure, to catch up and get everything back to normal.”

Wednesday’s crash happened at a rail crossing just past the Clarendon Hills train station, 1 S. Prospect Ave., said Clarendon Hills Fire Chief Brian Leahy, who said a box truck about 30 to 40 feet long had stalled on the tracks.

The train’s engine was at its rear, so a train car was the first to smash into the truck, flipping it on its side and causing it to burst into flames.

“It took down some of the railroad signal gates, and this thing was fully involved in fire,” Leahy said of the truck. “It exploded — even damaging a few cars in the commuter lot.”

It was the second passenger fatality incident in Metra’s history.

rsobol@chicagotribune.com



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