Lake Station remembers girls killed in 1971 bus-train crash
By Michelle L. Quinn Post-Tribune correspondent June 14, 2014 11:10PM
The memorial plaque remembering the four girls who died in an accident with a train on the way to Sunday school on October 31, 1971 in Lake Station was dedicated Saturday, June 14, 2014, in the community room of Edison Middle School. | Michael Gard/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 16, 2014 6:15AM
LAKE STATION — If the events of Halloween night 1971 had happened today, the aftermath might have been a lot different.
There would have been counselors to help church members get through the horror of losing four of their young charges after a train hit the bus they were riding. Instead, families and friends of Merralee Meler, Elizabeth Miller, Becky Tucker and Donna Breckman had to let time lessen the pain.
Those same relatives and friends celebrated their memory Saturday afternoon at the Lake Station Junior-Senior High School Community Room. The efforts of Roberta “Bobbee” Miller-Clawson and Fred Newman came to fruition as a plaque with the girls’ likenesses.
Clawson, through her tears, thanked Newman and another friend, Jim Northy, for their help in getting the plaque and other items. Northy was instrumental in introducing Clawson and Newman through social media.
“You guys are my own personal ‘Make-A-Wish’ Foundation,” Clawson said. “Who knew two people could reconnect through a yellowed (Post-Tribune) article?”
For Newman’s part, the accident “was a part of the city’s history.”
“I had asked people if they’d remembered this accident, and no one did,” Newman said. “Then I started talking to people on Facebook out of curiosity. I had no idea I’d meet actual survivors.”
Terry Grishka-Fisher, who graduated in 1974, played field hockey with Becky Tucker, who, as an upperclassman, took Grishka-Fisher under her wing. She was coming home from her own church when her family passed by the accident.
“I saw it, and I wanted to know they were OK,” she said.
Coyne and Maxine Russell had the horrific task of telling the Miller family Elizabeth had died. Maxine was at the church with other members when they heard the news.
“We were all in shock,” Maxine Russell said. “Because Donna was visiting the Tuckers, we had to go to the hospital to identify her. It was very hard.”