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Archive for Friday, July 9, 2004

Teen’s death stuns town

Baling wire used to tie Argonia valedictorian to railroad track

July 9, 2004

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— In the pitch blackness of the rural Kansas night, the object lying on the railroad tracks looked like a traffic cone someone had thrown onto the line.

The members of the train crew asked each other, "What is that?"

They certainly didn't think it was a human being.

But the sound of the impact didn't sound like it came from a traffic cone. The train screeched to a stop. Its crew searched the tracks.

Nothing.

It was the crew of the next train that passed that found the nude body of Jacob "Jake" Allen, lying more than 10 feet from the tracks. His black sweat shirt and red sweat pants were found further down the line.

The 19-year-old -- who in May graduated as Argonia High School's valedictorian -- had apparently been tied with baling wire to the tracks.

Some of the details of that night were first reported by the Mid-America News Network, based on an unidentified source at the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. The Associated Press since confirmed those details and pieced together the rest of the story through various railroad and law enforcement sources connected with the case.

The train hit Allen's body just before 3 a.m. Monday, along one of the busiest main lines of the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Corp.'s system. Every 15 to 20 minutes a train passes along the single-track section near Milan, which is part of the railroad's premier line between Chicago and Los Angeles.

On Thursday, Sumner County Sheriff Gerald Gilkey identified Allen as the victim and declined to answer any other questions about the investigation into his death, saying only that it was ongoing. Calls to the KBI were referred to Gilkey.

Today, a shocked, grieving community will gather in nearby Conway Springs for a rosary service for Allen. The funeral Mass is Saturday at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Conway Springs.

Jake Allen, 19, is shown in this graduation photo from Argonia High
School in May. The 19-year-old, who was valedictorian, was killed
Monday after he had apparently been tied with baling wire to the
train tracks. A train struck him just before 3 a.m. Monday, along
one of the busiest main lines of the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe
Corp.'s system near Wellington.

Jake Allen, 19, is shown in this graduation photo from Argonia High School in May. The 19-year-old, who was valedictorian, was killed Monday after he had apparently been tied with baling wire to the train tracks. A train struck him just before 3 a.m. Monday, along one of the busiest main lines of the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Corp.'s system near Wellington.

"I grew up in rural America. ... You still tend to think of it as a place where there are still solid values and people look out for one another and care for one another -- and this flies in the face of that, this shocks that sentiment," said railroad spokesman Steve Forsberg.

Allen's family declined Thursday to be interviewed.

The day after Allen's death, more than 40 students gathered in an Argonia church to meet with counselors and ministers. More such sessions will be put together as needed, said Julie Dolley, Argonia school superintendent.

"It is a terrible tragedy to lose this young man," she said.

Allen had planned to attend Northeastern Oklahoma University. He was considering a major in optometry, Dolley said.

Allen was an athlete in high school, where he competed in football, basketball and track. He was an honor student, a member of the National Honor Society, the speech and forensics club, the math club and member of the schools' service club.

"It is an unbelievable situation," Dolley said.

Allen attended parochial schools in Conway Springs until the sixth grade, said the Rev. Thomas Hoisington, priest at St. Joseph Catholic Church, where Allen was a parishioner. The family was active in the parish, and Allen was active in the church's group of young men.

Forsberg, who was paged in the middle of the night when the body was found, said he still was having a hard time thinking about it days later.

"It is one of those incidents so shocking it stuns the senses. And the more you think about it, the angrier the average human being becomes," Forsberg said. "We are hoping that law enforcement has the ability to resolve this because it is one of those incidents that desperately needs to be resolved. It appears to be an incredibly cruel thing that was done."

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