Van Wert mourns victims of fatal wreck; grade crossing did not have gates

By Kelly Lecker and Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writers

Page 8

VAN WERT — Classmates of the two teens who died here Friday after their car was struck by a freight train will be offered counseling when they return to classes tomorrow.

“We will offer it to any students who would like to go down and express their grief over the loss of our students,” Van Wert High School Principal Bill Clifton said.

Zachery Markward, 17, and Joshua Bragg, 16, both of Van Wert, died when the car they were in was struck by a westbound Conrail train. The boys were first cousins and best friends, family members said.

Van Wert police said young Markward, who was driving, did not stop for the flashing lights at a downtown Van Wert grade crossing, where there are no crossing gates. But the train’s lights were on and its horn did sound, witnesses told police.

Family members said the two boys were going to pick up a friend, then planned to go to young Markward’s house to hang out with a group of their friends.

Van Wert is about 60 miles southwest of Toledo.

Both were popular students, Mr. Clifron said.

“These two students were exceptional students. They reached a wide variety of students,” he said.

The two families involved are very close. Each boy’s father was the other boy’s godfather, and the families are planning a joint funeral Wednesday, said Chris Rodriguez, young Markward’s oldest sister.

Young Bragg was an excellent student, his older brother, Jeremy Bragg said. His grades were nearly all A’s, and he talked about becoming a radiologist, he said.

i”He was really good in everything,” Mr. Bragg said. “He always made the honor roll.”

Young Bragg also loved sports, playing freshman football for Van Wert High and city-league baseball in the summer. He rooted for the Chicago Bears, the Cincinnate Reds, and Chicago Bulls.

Young Markward was on the high school’s golf team and was very easy to get along with, his sister said.

“He had a big heart,” Ms. Rodriguez, one of the boy’s four sisters said. “He was the only boy in the family, and he put up with a lot from us.”

He was also an honor student with an affinity for science. He planned to be a police officer after college.

Ms. Rodriguez said the site of the accident is heavily traveled by teenagers and should have additional safety features to prevent a future accident.

“(Jefferson Street) leads right to the high school,” she said. “That street needs gates.”

Sgt. Joe Hammond said it was the first accident at the downtown crossing in his five years on the pole force.

Mr. Clifton and Van Wert High School’s counselors spent most of yesterday preparing to implement the district’s coundeling plans.

“What makes this perhaps more tragic is that it happened at a railroad crossing right in downtown Van Wert, in the heart of the community itself,” Mr. Clifton said.

Young Markwood is survived by his parents, Stephen and Loretta; sisters, Chris Rodriguez, Tanya Kennedy, Heather Markwood and Jennifer Markwood, and grandparents Betty Koos, Melvin Figley, and Margaret and Urban Markwood.

Young Bragg is survived by his parents, Donald and Elaine, brothers, Jeffrey and Justin; sister Jayme; grandparents Don and Brenda Bragg, Ronnie and Terry Dienstberger, and Margaret and Urban Markwood, and great-grandparents, George and Ruby Bragg.

The bodies will be in the Brickner Funeral Home, Van Wert, after noon Tuesday. Joint funeral services will be at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday in St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Wan Vert.