By Margie Wuebker
Two 5-year-old children en route to preschool classes were killed Wednesday afternoon when the car in which they were riding was struck by a freight train at a rural crossing near Botkins in Shelby County.
Brooklyn Cron, 5, who was in the process of being adopted by a former Mercer County man and his wife, was pronounced dead at the scene. Jacob Valentine, also of rural Botkins, was taken from the scene by CareFlight emergency helicopter to Children's Medical Center in Dayton, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
A third child, 5-year-old Nikolas Billings of St. Marys, remains in critical condition in the intensive care unit at Children's, where he too had been taken by helicopter.
The accident occurred at 12:25 p.m. when Billings' mother, Armenda Valentine, 28, of St. Marys, drove her eastbound 2005 Dodge into the path of a northbound CSX freight train. The Amsterdam Road crossing is equipped with signs but no lights or crossing arms.
The train, traveling around 46 miles per hour, struck the back passenger side of the car spinning it off the road and into a nearby field. All the occupants were using seat belts at the time, and investigators believe the train whistle was operating at the time. "We have not talked with the driver as yet," Shelby County Sheriff Kevin O'Leary told The Daily Standard. "Our assumption is her attention may have been diverted by the three children in the backseat."
The St. Marys woman was taken by ambulance to Wilson Memorial Hospital in Sidney, where she was treated for minor injuries and then released.
O'Leary explained the two dead children were seated closest to the point of impact accounting for the severity of their injuries. He expects charges to be filed against the driver once the investigation has been completed.
Armenda Valentine had just picked up her son (Billings) and nephew (Jacob Valentine) from her sister's home a short distance from the tracks. Jacob's mother was also the baby sitter for the little girl. Valentine reportedly left her 2-week-old baby at the home while making the trip to Care-A-Lot Learning Center.
"My son Bob and his wife Peggy were in the process of adopting Brooklyn," said Delores Selhorst of Montezuma. "They had her since the end of September and everything was to be finalized just before or just after Easter."
The dark-haired girl is the daughter of Peggy Selhorst's sister, who reportedly has a terminal illness.
"Brooklyn called Peggy aunt, but she called Joe dad from the very start," the grandmother said. "Coming from a single-parent family, she was so happy to have a daddy of her own."
The little girl, who loved Dora the Explorer and The Little Mermaid, spent Friday night at the home of Norm and Delores Selhorst. They describe her as always happy and never at a loss for words.
She and Jacob Valentine were best buddies who got married last week in an imaginary ceremony.
"They were happy-go-lucky," says Julie Schmerge, who owns the preschool and served as their teacher. "They liked everybody and everybody liked them."
Parents and grief counselors will be on hand today to work with 10 fellow classmates.
Funeral arrangements are pending for both youngsters.