Bill Williams last said goodbye to his wife as she stood on the front porch steps this morning, their two little boys anxious for school and running to the family van.
"I told them I loved them. 'Have a good day at school,' like I do every morning, and 'I'll see you later,' " Williams said.
Hours later, Williams got a call from police: His wife Tristian, 26, had been killed in an accident involving a train. Their boys Jayvon and JonKing, 4 and 5, had been seriously injured.
Williams said he rushed to Advocate Christ Medical Center, where Jayvon was recovering from contusions to his face and JonKing was being treated for two broken legs. "It's unbelievable," Williams said.
Tristian Williams was headed to Higgins Community Academy when she pulled around crossing gates and was struck by a Metra Rock Island train at 115th Street and Marshfield Avenue in the Morgan Park neighborhood around 8:15 a.m., according to police and relatives.
Williams died at the scene. Her sons were pulled from the van by several passers-by, including Perry Logan, who was taking his daughter to a nearby school.
"I saw the train drag the van down a little bit. It flipped and rolled," Logan said. "I jumped out of the car and went to the van to see if everybody's OK. I heard little kids crying. They were in the backseat crying, 'Help me, help me. Mommy, mommy.' "
Bill Williams said he doesn't know why his wife drove around the gates.
He described his wife as "a fun, likable person" and a "dedicated, loving" woman. The two had been married for four years.
Williams had been a stay at home mother after being laid off recently from her job at the TLX company. Before that, she was a bus driver for nearly three years.
He said his wife wanted to look for work, but they decided she should wait another year until her youngest, a pre-school student, started school full-time next year.
"That was the plan, until today came and took it all away," Williams said.
Logan, who works as a busboy for a Burbank restaurant, said he was on his way to drop off his 5-year-old daughter at Curtis Elementary School nearby when he saw Williams' van pull alongside.
"It was in front of me when we stopped. The gates were down and the driver started going around the gates. She kind of stopped and the train hit her," Logan said. "It looked like she just panicked for a second. We heard the brakes from the train trying to stop."
Running up to the van, he saw one of the boys trying to get out.
"But the seatbelt was wrapped around his leg. I pressed the unbuckle button and he got out of the van. Then he was trying to pull his little brother out. He went back in and grabbed his brother's arms. I said, 'Hold on, let me help you.'
"Other people came around to help and we got the little boy out of the vehicle and laid him on the ground," Logan said, adding that the little boy couldn't stand and may have broken his leg. "He was grabbing my leg saying, 'Don't leave me, don't leave me.' He was trying to get up on his own but he couldn't.
"Then we checked on mama. She was still breathing in the front seat but there was no way to get to her. Everything was twisted up, glass everywhere. They tried to cut her out but she was dead before they could get her out," Logan said. "There was fire around the car and fire in the engine and gasoline everywhere. I was trying to get the kids away from there, make sure they were OK. They were asking where their mom was. I was trying to make sure they didn't see their mom."
Asked why he rushed to the van, Logan said "I got little kids myself, I wanted to make sure everything was OK. I didn't have time to think. I just hopped out of the car. First thing on my mind was, was everything OK?"
When he saw the boy trying to climb out of the van, "I was just happy he was alive. It was a miracle. He was walking. I thought, cool, he's OK. The second kid, my God, my heart dropped, he kept crying, 'My leg, my leg.'
"Tears came out, some things, you just got to cry."
Metra spokeswoman Meg Reile said the train's engineer and other witnesses also said the van drove around the gates. She said the train was likely moving at about its highest speed, 79 mph, and there was no way that it could have stopped before hitting the car.
The train had left Blue Island as scheduled at 8:10 a.m. and was on its way to the next stop at the Washington Heights station at 103rd Street when it hit the van, according to Reile. The line was closed for a time and reopened temporarily using an alternate line, she said. Service was restored around 9 a.m.
Reile said this is the 24th fatality involving a Metra train this year. All but four of those deaths have been pedestrians struck by trains, she said.