Thursday, April 23, 1908
Railroad Wreck at Toluca

A fearful wreck occurred near Toluca on Friday last, caused by an open switch.  The train was going about 20 miles an hour at the time  and the engine tender and five cars were ditched.  The engineer was killed by being pinioned under the engine and scalded.  All the other trainmen and passengers escaped with a severe shaking up. When the switch was examined it was found that the lock had been broken by a crowbar, which was lying near the scene.  The switch light was also broken and was not burning at the time of the accident.

After breaking the lock, the switch was turned partially open and the engine plowed through the misplaced switch with such momentum that when it left the rails it ran into an ice house and knocked it down before falling on its side.  Engineer Coppes was caught by the falling engine and the escaping steam caused his death.  The fireman in some manner escaped and was not injured.

The first three baggage cars were reduced to kindling wood and the baggagemen were removed from the debris with minor injuries.  Two chair cars also left the track and fell on their sides.  The passengers were severely shaken up, otherwise were unhurt.  Two chair cars and a sleeper remained on the track.  No cause can be assigned for the dastardly deed and an all-day search failed to reveal any clue to the perpetrators of the deed.

Coroner W.J. Thomas was summoned to the scene and a jury empannelled as to the cause of the death of the engineer, consisting of Mike Fahy, foreman, John J. Carroll, J.D. Taylor, James Grable, G.L. Marshall and J.W. Evans, M.D.  

Virgil Mannick, fireman sworn: "Wreck happened at about 1 this a.m.  We went through switch, but I don't know why she took the switch: were running 20 to 25 miles an hour I should judge.  Our train was about seven minutes late.  We were not trying to make up time.  Engineer was making second application of air; the last thing I heard was the exhaust of steam."

E.M. Evick, sworn; fireman.  "Found deceased badly scalded by escaping steam; were running about 20 to 25 miles an hour; found the lock broken; and the handle was half way between the two notches. I saw a crowbar lying on the bank near the switch; the tool box on the right of way was broken open; the lock looked like it had been broken;  I noticed that the glass in the signal lamp on the switch was broken.  I think the schedule for Toluca is 15 miles an hour."

G.J. Clark, conductor, sworn:  " Knew deceased 15 years; don't know whether scalded or crushed to death; were running 25 miles an hour or less; he had shut off the air; a displacement of the switch caused the wreck; had been an engineer on the Santa Fe 15 years and was a steady, sober man; went to the switch right after the wreck, and found the lock broken."

Dr Potts sworn:  "I examined deceased and my opinion is that the blow on head cuased his death; skull was fractured; he was hardly scalded enough to cause death."

The verdict of the jury was that Benton Coppes, engineer, came to his death by a blow on the head received in wreck on the said Santa Fe railway on passenger train No. 1, which left the track about 1 a.m., April 17, 1908, at Toluca, Ill; a switch apparently had been tampered with and lock on same being broken by party or parties unknown to the jury; also the train was exceeding the speed limit, and we the jury do so find.

Taken From the Henry News Republican, Henry, IL

Train Wreck Photos

These are pictures of the April 17, 1908 Train Wreck when the Santa Fe hit the Toluca Ice House.  (See Above News Article)  Click on any photos to enlarge.

Courtesty Pete Mastalio

Courtesy Ken Miller

Courtesy John Focci

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