Wildlife Rescuer Dies After Being Hit By Train Trying To Rescue Opossum From Tracks

A licensed wildlife rehabilitator from Illinois, Sandie Konopelski was killed Friday morning while trying to rescue an opossum that had wandered onto train tracks. The woman was hit by the St. Louis Metrolink train during the opossum rescue attempt and was pronounced dead at the scene.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that 58-year-old Sandie Konopelski was licensed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources as a wildlife rescuer. She worked with the Bi-State Wildlife Hotline of Missouri and Illinois and was responding to a call about an opossum on the train tracks when the accident happened. Angel Wintrode, the president of the wildlife hotline, says that a call came in about the opossum at around 8 a.m. Wintrode notes that Konopelski went out for the call like she had “a thousand times before.”

Wintrode says that the Metrolink employees would sometimes call in animals on the tracks, but was unsure exactly who called in the opossum Friday morning. Witnesses note that the tracks were somewhat elevated at the area that the accident took place; however, police are not sure what prevented Konopelski from hearing the train approaching.

According to the Southwestern Illinois News-Democrat, those who knew Konopelski said she was dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating animals. Those in the animal rescue community are shocked and saddened by Sandie’s unfortunate passing and say she was a “tireless advocate for wildlife in the metro-east.”

The Wildlife hotline posted this tribute to their Facebook page following Sandie's death.

Adele Moore, founder of Treehouse Wildlife Center in Dow, says that Sandie’s death will be a “big blow” to the wildlife rehabilitation efforts in the area.

“It’s going to be a big blow to wildlife rehabilitation in our area. She made a big difference.”

The Shiloh mayor Jim Vernier says that he is still in shock about the loss of Sandie and says that she was always someone he could count on if an animal was in need.

“I can’t believe it happened. She was such a caring person for animals. I could call her at 3:00 in the morning and she’d be there to help an animal. I don’t know who’s going to fill those shoes. Everybody called her.”

The passengers on the Metrolink train were evacuated and taken by ATVs to a local bus station. No one on the train was injured. The Swansea Police Department and St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department say they are still investigating the incident and will try to determine why Konopelski could not hear the train coming prior to the deadly accident.

[Image Credit: Facebook/ Bi-State Wildlife Hotline]