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Woman killed by train in rare incident

A Solon Springs woman was killed when she was struck by a train while walking her dog in downtown Solon Springs Monday night. The victim was identified by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office as Deborah Otier, 59. With Otier’s death, the community has rallied.

“Everybody wants to help in some way,” said Diane McKee of Solon Springs. Some have done so by donating for the medical care of Otier’s Pomeranian, Cody, who was injured in the incident.

Witnesses told the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, Otier left the grocery store and walked west until reaching the tracks where the stop arms were extended, and lights and bells were active. She apparently walked around the backside of the stop arms and was struck by the oncoming train.

She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Her dog, Cody, suffered a broken leg. The injury does not require surgery, but it has been taped up, according to McKee. Costs have already exceeded $300, and more X-rays and appointments are expected. Donations for the dog’s care are accepted at two Solon Springs businesses, Countryside Boarding Kennels and Franny K’s Grocery Store. Anything left over from the care of the canine will be given to the Humane Society of Douglas County in Otier’s name. McKee said Otier was an animal lover who adopted Cody from the humane society.

Railroad tracks cut through the heart of Solon Springs, dividing the community and crossing three transportation arteries. All have flashing lights but only one has a stop arm.

“Someday I’d like to see them all gated,” said Solon Springs Fire Chief John Walt. He estimated that as many as 20 trains rumble through town in a 24-hour period, reaching speeds up to 50 mph. Sometimes, they block traffic at the crossings for extended periods of time. That has occasionally forced members of the Solon Springs Volunteer Fire Department to seek alternate routes to get to a call.

The village has had two train-related fatalities in the past 35 years, Walt said. In addition to Monday’s accident, a fatal vehicle-train accident occurred a number of years ago when the village briefly became a whistle-free zone. But, he said, there have been various accidents without fatalities, and “We can’t count the number of near misses we had in town.” Monday’s incident came as a shock for members of the volunteer fire department.

“Never in history that I can remember have we had a pedestrian/train accident,” Walt said.

Douglas County Sheriff Tom Dalbec couldn’t remember any train-related incidents in Solon Springs in the last few years. He did offer some safety advice.

“If the lights are flashing, bells are ringing and the stop arms are down, do not even attempt to cross the tracks,” Dalbec said.

There were 60 highway-rail grade collisions in Wisconsin last year, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. A search of the administration database turned up two previous accidents at the County Highway A railroad crossing in Solon Springs — a 2011 car/train accident in which no injuries were reported and a 1995 car/train accident in which the driver was injured.

The accident remains under investigation by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, Douglas County Medical Examiner’s Office, and the CN Railroad Police.

Telegram Editor Shelley Nelson contributed to this report.