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In wake of CTA death, family seeks rail changes

The family of a man who died last month from electrocution after he accidentally touched the third rail at a North Side CTA station has started an online petition asking the CTA to put up protection along the third rail to prevent similar incidents.

The change.org petition posted by Eileen Johnson of Naperville on Thursday garnered more than 1,400 signatures as of Friday afternoon. Johnson's nephew, Jeff La Valle, died June 30 after he fell onto the tracks at the Howard Street station in Rogers Park.

La Valle, 26, and two siblings were headed home to Glenview after visiting the Pride Parade on the North Side.

According to a police report, the siblings were jokingly pushing each other on the platform when Jeff La Valle fell onto the tracks and touched the third rail. His twin brother, Justin La Valle, jumped onto the tracks in an attempt to save to him and was shocked as well.

Jeff La Valle was taken to St. Francis Hospital in Evanston, where he was pronounced dead at 8:08 p.m., according to the police report.

Family members dispute the police account and say Jeff La Valle fell as he sidestepped crowds on the platform. The CTA said the platform was not crowded.

Johnson is asking the CTA to put protection around the third rail, which supplies power to propel trains, and work on crowd control after large-scale events.

"[The CTA] needs to make the public aware of the dangers of the third rail," Johnson said. "I just know something needs to be done."

Six riders died last year after coming in contact with the third rail, the CTA said. Two people have died this year--La Valle and a California man who fell onto the tracks at the Addison Red Line stop June 7.

CTA spokesman Brian Steele said the third rail sits more than eight feet from the edge of the platform. The CTA's current configuration of third rail and open rails has been around since the late 1800s, he said.

"The third rail has to be exposed in order for CTA trains to operate," Steele said.

Steele said the agency has been planning to unveil a public safety campaign this fall about the dangers of being on CTA tracks.

He said this campaign, which will involve posters, signs and digital messages on trains and platforms, will complement signs at stations warning riders that tracks are dangerous and safety information on the CTA Web site.

Justin La Valle, who said he regularly rides Metra and infrequently rides CTA, said he was unaware of the existence of a third rail until his brother's death last month.

"Let's find solutions," La Valle said. "I just don't want anyone to be hurt again."

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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