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Officer in train-van crash called 'hero'
Published: May 25th 2009
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Tragedy struck before Elm Grove's Memorial Day parade as a southbound CP Rail freight train collided with a minivan about 9:30 a.m. Monday.

A police officer and another man were injured in the crash, but the female driver was removed from the vehicle just before the train struck, and a young child still inside the van at the time of the collision was uninjured.

The crash occurred when the westbound minivan, which was stuck in traffic on Juneau Boulevard just west of Elm Grove Village Hall, became caught between two railroad gates.

Witness Tim Weiner of Brookfield was heading east on Juneau and described the van driver, a 40-year-old West Allis woman, as trying to maneuver around the gates. The van's back wheels spun out on the tracks and left it stuck facing the oncoming train.

Elm Grove police say the 47-year-old husband of the woman was nearby in his sports-utility vehicle with two of their children. The family was traveling in two cars to view the Memorial Day parade.

The husband, Weiner said, jumped out of his vehicle and tried to get his wife and 2-year-old son out of the van. Weiner said Elm Grove police officer John Krahn "came out of nowhere," and extricated the woman while the husband tried to get the boy as the train approached.

Krahn had been directing traffic at the corner of Elm Grove Road and Juneau Boulevard, just west of the railroad tracks.

Other witnesses said the officer was screaming "Get out of the way!" as he ran to the scene.

Before they could get the boy, the train struck the van, which then struck both the husband and Krahn.

Weiner said Krahn hit the pavement several times on Juneau Boulevard before landing on some nearby grass.

Weiner went to check on the husband, who did not appear conscious, and then to Krahn, who told him to get the boy out of the van. Weiner said it appeared Krahn's leg was badly broken and he was in "agony" as he instructed him to get the boy out of the van.

The force of the train pushed the van about 100 feet from the road. Weiner, who was wearing inline skates and was going to participate in the parade, got to the boy and brought him to his mother. Both the boy and mother escaped injury, according to police.

Emergency personnel responded immediately.

The husband was taken to Froedtert Hospital by ambulance. Krahn, a 17-year veteran of the department, was taken to Froedtert by Flight for Life helicopter. The helicopter left the scene about 10:10 a.m.

As of late Monday, both men were undergoing surgery at Froedtert.

Police Chief James Gage said at a press conference shortly after the accident that both men were responding, moving and speaking during treatment at the scene. They were both in surgery at Froedtert on Monday afternoon.

Both Gage and Weiner described Krahn as a hero.

"Everything I've heard about his action was very heroic," Gage said. "I'm very proud of him."

The Memorial Day parade was canceled.

The accident is under investigation by the Elm Grove Police Department, the Wisconsin State Patrol and the CP Rail Police.

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