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Jenkins column: Tragedy and memories

From the April 18, 1977, Beckley (W.Va.) Post-Herald:

ROBSON — An eight-year-old Fayette County girl died shortly after being admitted to Montgomery General Hospital on Sunday and her cousin was listed in critical condition at Charleston General Hospital with injuries received when they were struck by a train in Robson and knocked off a railway trestle, authorities said. Penny Marie Jenkins, daughter of Lawrence H. and Violet Jordan Jenkins Jr. of Lochgelly, died several hours after being admitted to the hospital, authorities said. Patricia Ann Treadway, also eight, and daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Ben Treadway of Robson, was taken to the Montgomery hospital and transferred to Charleston where she underwent head surgery. The hospital reported the girl was in the intensive care unit. Authorities said the girls were returning from church when they were hit by a westbound Chesapeake and Ohio Railway coal train around 12:10 p.m. Authorities said the girls apparently were in the middle of the trestle, which is less than 90 feet long, when the train came around a turn, knocking them off the 25-foot-high span and into the creek. State police said the train was traveling about 25 miles per hour but was unable to stop. The incident is under investigation.

•  •  •

April 17, 1977, at my grandparents’ home:

A telephone call. Silence, then weeping.

•  •  •

You don’t have to be a psychologist to know that events in our present can dredge up memories from our past, things we haven’t thought about in years, things we haven’t particularly wanted to think about. That happened to me this week, after the tragic death of Kymello McLane.

We all know the story. Kymello was playing at Hurley Park with friends on Sunday. They discovered a pond had frozen over. Kymello — an adventurous child, his family said — tried to walk on the hardened surface. He slipped, fell and went through the ice. He remained submerged in the frigid water for 20 minutes, until rescue personnel pulled him out. He died a short time later.

Kymello was 8 years old, just like Penny and Patricia.

The girls are my cousins. I was 9 when the accident happened. Being so close in age, and living near one another in Fayette County, W.Va., we were close and frequently played together. Penny’s birthday, Oct. 12, was two days before mine.

After shocking deaths such as these, it would be easy to point fingers at the parents. But Kymello’s mother said he’d gone to play in the park with friends in the past, without incident. “He was responsible, and it was just another day,” Nykia Ford said.

Letting two little girls walk across a train trestle might be harder to comprehend, unless you were there. My aunt and uncle and their children lived on Loup Creek, a fairly big waterway for a creek and rocky. There was no way to drive across Loup Creek to their house, only a footbridge, which always seemed a little rickety to me, and the trestle.

We kids crossed that trestle many times and, although it lay just beyond a bend, an oncoming train always blew its whistle and you could hear it coming anyway. Still, Penny was afraid of that trestle, and I think Patricia was trying to help her get over that. When they heard the train approaching, still beyond the bend, there was time for them to retreat. But Penny froze, and Patricia wouldn’t leave her.

I sometimes wonder if I’m too protective of my own son. Of course, he didn’t come into my life until he was 11, and I missed a lot of the scrapes and bruises and mishaps that convince other parents their kids won’t break. Most of us got through it OK.

We’d all been at church together that morning in the spring of 1977, and until that accident happened, it was just another day.

God bless Kymello’s family, and God protect our children.

Scott Jenkins is news editor of the Salisbury Post.



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