Seven-year-old Heather Hoehne liked to wave to trains passing her friends’ home.
The engineers would wave back as they rumbled by in the big cars.
On Sunday, the little girl apparently was determined to get an up-close look at the train. Ignoring the pleas of her playmates, she was standing on a tie beside the tracks when she was clipped by the train.
She was waving.
Hoehne was listed in serious condition late Sunday at Deaconess Medical Center in Spokane. A family friend said the little girl suffered broken legs, internal injuries and cuts, but is expected to fully recover.
“She’s got some damned good guardian angels,” said a shaken Lin Rimple, whose Diagonal Road home Hoehne was visiting for the weekend. Hoehne and her mother, Trish Hoehne of Coeur d’Alene, are friends of Rimple and her daughter.
Sunday morning, Hoehne was playing with two neighbor boys, ages 5 and 6, in a railroad cut about 200 yards behind Rimple’s home. The three children were on the tracks when the train approached, according to the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department.
The boys moved off the tracks, but Hoehne apparently was determined to wave to the train’s engineer. She stood on a concrete railroad tie about 18 inches from the nearest rail.
The train’s engineer saw the girl, blew the whistle and braked, according to the sheriff’s report. The two boys apparently tried to get her to move.
“They were pulling on her and she pushed them away,” said Rimple. “In her mind she thought she was safe.”
Unable to stop, the train bore down on the little girl.
“I heard the train whistle, but you hear it all the time,” said Rimple, who was at the nearby home.
Hoehne was struck by the “cow catcher” in front of the engine, according to the sheriff’s department.
The impact knocked off the girl’s tennis shoes and a sock. She landed face-down on the gravel.
Her companions ran up the hill toward Rimple’s house, screaming for her.
“What’s wrong?” she said.
“Heather got hit by a train,” the 6-year-old boy said.
Rimple sprinted for the railroad tracks.
“I thought, ‘What do I tell her mom?”’ she said. “What am I going to find when I get down there through the trees?”
The girl was dazed and trying to sit up beside the rails. One leg was askew.
“She said ‘I was going to wave to the train,”’ said Rimple. “She thought she was outside the tracks.”
The train had stopped about a fifth of a mile down the tracks. The crew apparently called for medical help.
Sheriff’s deputies and medical technicians arrived, as did a medical helicopter. Hoehne was airlifted to Deaconess, where she underwent 3 hours of surgery Sunday afternoon. Both her femurs were broken, and her kidney and liver were bruised, but functioning.
“She’s going to be laid up for a minimum of two months, but she’ll be fine,” said Rimple.
She said she can’t blame the train for the accident.
“It’s not the train’s fault,” she said. “What are you going to do, fence in all the trains and all the highways? Kids just think they’re indestructible.”
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.