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It wasn't unusual to see commuter rail conductor Jephthe Chery at work seven days a week as he tried to rise quickly in the company, former colleagues say.

Jephthe Chery was shot and killed outside of a Fenway bar Thursday morning.
Jephthe Chery was shot and killed outside of a Fenway bar Thursday morning.Jan Ransom/Globe Staff

Coworkers described Chery -- who died after being caught in crossfire early Thanksgiving outside a Fenway Park bar -- as a friendly and tireless worker always game to pick up an extra shift. Police called Chery an "innocent" who was felled by bullets intended for someone else.

Sheldon Dowling, who used to clean commuter rail coaches with Chery, said his close friend didn't want to be the only one with ambition: He pushed friends and relatives to follow his lead.

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Dowling said Chery, for example, had long pushed his cousin to become a coach cleaner for the MBTA's commuter rail -- and Chery's cousin eventually did.

And when Chery began taking college classes, he told Dowling he should go back to school so he could become an electrician at the commuter rail company, now run by Keolis Commuter Services. Dowling took his friend's advice, and eventually enrolled in Porter and Chester Institute.

At the same time, Chery, who had already ascended from coach cleaner to conductor at the commuter rail, was trying to get Dowling a job similar to his.

"Every time I'd see him, he'd say, 'Did you apply for this job?' or 'Did you apply for that job?' " recalled Dowling, who still works as a coach cleaner while he takes classes. "He told me I needed to advance in the company."

Chery started on the railroad as a coach cleaner in 2009, then took exams to become a conductor in 2011, according to Don Wheaton, chairman of the local union that represents Keolis conductors.

Like Dowling, Wheaton and his colleagues quickly recognized Chery's ambition. When Chery wasn't picking up shifts, he was going to school. The young rail worker dreamed of becoming a locomotive engineer -- and coworkers said he was well on his way to achieving it.

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Wheaton thought Chery, who had immigrated to the United States from Haiti, was trying hard to achieve the American dream.

"He was a hard-working guy, and he had a goal and the goal was to better himself and keep working forward," Wheaton said. "And that's what he was doing. He did it."

Heidi Coughlin, vice president of the union representing Keolis coach cleaners, remembered Chery as a happy guy who "always had a big smile." She would call him at 5 a.m. to tell him about an extra shift, and he would happily go to work.

"He worked anywhere you asked him to, any time you asked him to," she said. "I knew he wanted to move up."

When Chery started at the commuter rail, which was then run by the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co., he and Dowling became fast friends. Dowling, who is from Barbados, could relate well to Chery, a Haitian immigrant.

The two would talk about their girl problems and hang out on weekends. Chery would constantly work on his house, which he was proud to own, and Dowling would come to the big parties Chery would throw. The parties would be packed, Dowling recalled.

"Everyone knew Jeph," he said, using Chery's nickname. "He was definitely one of the nicest guys I ever knew."

The two last spoke Tuesday, when Chery was getting off a train at a Keolis maintenance facility on Southampton Street in Boston. Chery asked how Dowling was going to celebrate Thanksgiving, and Dowling assumed they would see each other over the weekend to celebrate Chery's 30th birthday.

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Dowling heard the news about the fatal shooting when an employee from Keolis called him on Thanksgiving. When Dowling went to work Friday -- Chery's birthday -- the mood was somber.

"It was difficult today to go in," he said, "knowing I wouldn't see him."


Nicole Dungca can be reached at nicole.dungca@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.