Howard County Times
Howard County

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.

Sharon Mayr said she was looking forward to "honoring the girls and making it a positive experience.

"I think it's going to be hard, being there, but at the same time I don't think it will be," she said. "It's going to be hard to realize that all those people are there for my daughter, but it's a good thing. It's hard to think when someone is gone — you worry that it's going to be like they were never there — but this way it's like, OK, she's still here."

Sharon Mayr said the two women will live on in another way: Proceeds from the memorial run will benefit the Elizabeth Nass Scholarship and the Rose Mayr Nursing Scholarship.

Both women, who had been active on the Mt. Hebron dance team, were preparing to go back to college as rising juniors before the accident. Mayr was studying nursing at the University of Delaware. Nass was studying early childhood education and headed back to James Madison University in Virginia.


Mayr's scholarship is sponsored by the Howard Hospital Foundation and is for any student pursing a degree in the nursing program at Howard Community College. Nass' is sponsored by the Mt. Hebron PTSA and is for any graduate planning on attending James Madison.

"In some way, it's like you can take what Rose would have achieved and try to inspire others," Sharon Mayr said.

Both mothers said they were grateful to the run's organizers and to the community.

"The response has been amazing, but I think I knew all along that it would be like this," Sue Nass said. "Both girls have a huge network of family and friends, all of whom I was sure would want to participate or be involved in some way. That said, the support and the response from the business community — many of whom did not know Rose and Elizabeth — has been more than we could have hoped for."

The memorial run organizers — Allwein, Warfel and Stevens, with the help of the two families — said that 554 people had signed up before online registration was cut off on Aug. 11. They hope to make it an annual event, but more than that, Warfel said, they want it to be a celebration.

"We want people to have good memories instead of the images people still carry of the derailment," he said.


Like Sharon Mayr, Sue Nass said it was "nice to have something positive to focus on" in planning the race.

"It is good for me to have contact with them in this way," she said. "It brings us together, and we laugh and talk about Elizabeth and Rose. I think it has been good for all of us."

For Sharon Mayr, growing closer with the Nass family "has been a help. I hope I can help them, too.

"The only positive thing that can possibly come of this is that you have someone else to look to," she said. "That's the only way I can describe it."

The race will begin at 8:30 a.m. at the Howard County Circuit Courthouse and end at Parking Lot F at the intersection of Ellicott Mills Drive and Frederick Road. Following the race, there will be music, food and drinks in the parking lot.

Some business owners are running. Linda Miller, owner of St. John's Jewelers on Route 40, said nearly her entire staff will be in the race. Some of those employees are Mt. Hebron students and graduates.


Meg Ross, an employee at the store and a rising senior and member of the Mt. Hebron volleyball team, said many students are planning to participate.

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"It's more than a show of school spirit; it's a show of community spirit," said Ross. "The race is going to be so positive, and everyone is really excited for it. It'll be a good atmosphere."

The event organizers are encouraged by the momentum the event has generated, but Carney said, "That's just Ellicott City.

"This is such a close-knit community down here," he said. "We have the best people in the world who come down to the Historic District.

"I'm not surprised at all by the interest. It's exactly what I would expect, and it's a good thing. It's a sad tragedy, but it's brought a lot of people together."

Coming together in trying times is "just in the fiber of this town," said County Council member Courtney Watson, who represents Ellicott City.


"It is resilient," she said. "Ellicott City has been here long before us, and it will be here long after us. Ellicott City might stumble, but it always gets back up, and the community members are all a part of it.

"The town was in such agony that week, it was surreal. It was so sad. (The race) will be a very strong message to the parents and families of Rose and Elizabeth that they are supported and the girls will be remembered always."