A year later, celebrating the lives lost in train derailment tragedy

The fence edging Tiber Park along Main Street in Ellicott City is bare now, a far cry from the makeshift memorial of clustered flowers, candles and notes that grew after the CSX train derailment last year that took the lives of two 19-year-old Ellicott City women.

But as the one-year anniversary of the accident approaches, community members are rallying to dedicate a more permanent memorial to Rose Mayr and Elizabeth Nass, and to celebrate the lives they lived.

On Saturday, Aug. 17, event organizers are expecting more than 500 people at what they hope is the first annual 2 Miles for 2 Hearts Memorial Run in Ellicott City, an event that also will include the unveiling in Tiber Park of two new benches dedicated to Mayr and Nass.

"I think that even though they're not here to live their lives, they can still leave a legacy in some way, make a mark," said Sharon Mayr, Rose Mayr's mother. "That gives us parents something to think about. I think it's going to be a very good experience."

The cause of the accident is undetermined — National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Keith Holloway said a report "will be forthcoming" — but the effect is clear in the memories of the community.

"It's your worst fear as a parent," said Pam Stevens, who is one of the race's organizers and whose family is close to the Nasses. "It's like a nightmare come true."

Mayr and Nass, both 2010 graduates of Mt. Hebron High School, were sitting on the ledge of the railroad bridge over Main Street in Historic Ellicott City as midnight approached on Aug. 20, 2012. A CSX train with two locomotives and 80 loaded coal cars went by them, but at approximately 11:56 p.m., according to the NTSB, 21 cars derailed, and the two women were buried under coal.

Days after the accident, Rusty Allwein and Chip Warfel, both of Ellicott City, took a bike ride down Main Street "out of curiosity," Allwein said.

"As a parent, I couldn't even imagine what (the families) were going through," he said. "I just felt that if there was something I could do that would help them in any way, I wanted to be a part of it."

Allwein didn't know Nass and Mayr, or their families. But Warfel and Stevens did.

"It was just affecting so many people, more than just the families, and a lot of us felt helpless," Stevens said.

Allwein pitched the idea for a memorial run to Stevens, who shared it with the Nass family, who in turn talked with the Mayr family. All were on board, Allwein said, and planning started to take shape last fall, just a few months after the derailment.

"As far as the community goes, everyone remembers the accident," Allwein said. "A lot of people were deeply touched by the tragedy and wanted to be involved in something positive."

More than 250 people gathered at an evening vigil that was held Aug. 21 at Mt. Hebron High School.

Main Street was closed at the train bridge for nearly a week after the derailment, affecting businesses. It was the latest incident in what some business owners and community leaders called "a rough patch" for the Historic District. A year before the derailment, the town endured flooding and a deadly shooting at a nearby church.

"It was a challenging year," said Dave Carney, owner of the Wine Bin and president of the Ellicott City Business Association. "Every time we turned around, it was something. The wreck devastated the entire community — the loss of life made it even more so."

But the community banded together, supporting each other and welcoming support from the metro area. Local organizers created a Main Street Appreciation campaign, urging the community to support the local businesses, and Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, whose jersey number is 27, lent his support to a similar campaign: 27 for Old Ellicott City.

For 27 days last fall, Ellicott City restaurants and businesses put aside 27 percent of the proceeds from one special, said Jeni Porter, owner of the Wind River Clothing Co. on Main Street. The special could be an item, a meal or a beverage.

When the fundraiser was over, nearly $10,000 had been raised. Porter said the money was split three ways — a third each for the Mayr and Nass families, and a third back to the business association. The families decided to use the money they received to buy the benches.

Sue Nass, mother of Elizabeth Nass, said approximately 70 members of the Nass and Mayr families will be at the run (in light blue T-shirts), and that she will participate in the run along with her sons, Brendan and Jon.