On the morning of April 19, 1989, a train was crossing an intersection in Fox River Grove, Illinois. It was a commuter train from Chicago called the Metra, and it was a "Double-Ender" with a diesel locomotive on one end of the cars and a control cab on the other. It was about 7 a.m. and Engineer Ford Dotson was doing a system check as he waited to let passengers on board before starting the day's first run.
As he waited at the stop line, his train's rear car was nearly even with the stopped school bus that was sitting there. The school bus was a little longer than the 11 foot wide Metra train, and the back of it extended three feet into the path of the intersection traffic signal lights.
When Bus 103, driven by substitute driver Patricia Catencamp, pulled up to the light at Algonquin and US 14, she did what State law and School Board policy required her to do: She eased up to the stopping edge of the tracks and opened her window.
Catencamp wasn't a novice driver but she was an administrator, and her driving skills were not honed on this particular route. And although she had a CDL with an endorsement to drive buses, and had passed a training course on school bus safety, this wasn't her normal route. She also didn't know pertinent facts about her bus or the intersection, and the error she made -- coupled with a screwed up timing on the traffic signals -- was deadly.