WAREHAM — Saturday night for Henry Noe was supposed to be a fun-filled evening out for him and his family — a chance to start the Christmas season a little early with a holiday-themed train ride starting out from Buzzards Bay.
The children were excited, looking forward to meeting Santa Claus while the train rolled through the woods in Wareham. So when Noe heard the train whistle blow a couple times at about 7:30 p.m., and noticed the locomotive then come to a smooth stop, he wasn’t concerned. Maybe the train had a technical problem, or an animal had crossed onto the tracks, he recalled thinking.
But then Noe, an EMT, started getting text messages from friends reporting a train had just struck pedestrians in Wareham. Other passengers — including police, firefighters, and fellow EMTs — also received similar messages.
“The staff [on the train] never gave us any inkling something was wrong,” Noe said. “But we knew.”
The Cape Cod Central Railroad train — which carried Noe, his mother, his 7-year-old daughter, and her 10-year-old friend, and about 350 other passengers that night — had struck a man and woman on the tracks of the Cape Maine Line in Wareham, coming to a stop near 72 Minot Ave. around 7:30 p.m., according to the Plymouth district attorney’s office.
The victims — a 33-year-old woman and a 36-year-old man, both from Wareham — were determined to be dead at the scene, according to the Plymouth district attorney’s office. They were struck near the line’s mile post 52.5, the agency said.
The two were not identified by authorities but the woman was Melissa Gaudette, her father, Leon Gaudette, said in a brief interview at his home in Wareham Sunday night. She and the man who died that night were the parents of three children, he said. Those children are now staying at Leon Gaudette’s home.
“We have three children who lost their parents last night, and that’s what we’re dealing with right now,” he said.
He said investigators told him that the couple were on the tracks when the crash occurred, but nothing else.
“We’re trying to deal with a tragedy now. She has a large family, we’re just hoping for the best right now,” Gaudette said.
No one onboard the train was injured, according to the district attorney’s office.
A preliminary investigation revealed that before the man and woman were struck, the conductor “made attempts to stop the train and activated the train’s emergency braking system prior to impact,” according to the district attorney’s office.
The crash remains under investigation by State Police detectives assigned to the Plymouth district attorney’s office, Wareham police, and the MBTA.
A 39-year-old Wareham man who gave his name as David said he knew the couple, and grew up in town with the man who died.
David described the man as easygoing and said he last saw him on Saturday afternoon.
“He was happy,” David said of the man.
Kevin Pierce, 65, who lives on Minot Avenue, grew up in Wareham and said it’s common to see people, usually teenagers, walking along the railroad tracks. Pierce’s home is a short distance from the scene, and after the crash Saturday, listened to the response of emergency crews on a scanner.
“We kept saying, ‘How did you never see the train?’” Pierce said. “You can hear the rumble.”
Onboard the train Saturday night, Noe said the first responders wanted to get out and help — but felt they had a responsibility to protect their children from trauma and not reveal what happened, Noe said.
“A lot of us would have liked to be out there and be first on scene, [and] call back to the responding crews as to what we had and what was going to be needed,” Noe said.
Noe’s family has deep first responder roots — the Falmouth man is an EMT with Coastal Medical Transportation, his mother is a firefighter and EMT in Onset, and his stepfather is a retired fire captain in the same community.
Taking care of the children on the train was “first and foremost,” he said.
“My mother is a firefighter and EMT and I’m an EMT, and we had two young children... that’s the story with all the families there,” Noe said.
Noe credited the staff on the train with maintaining the illusion of a Christmas holiday event: Christmas music was playing while the train was stopped, children took photos with Santa, even the conductor announced that the train had just run out of “magic fuel,” Noe said.
His daughter still doesn’t know about the crash, he said.
“I didn’t want her to know that what was supposed to be a very Christmas-y family celebration was anything but,” Noe said. “She still believes in the holiday magic, and I am not about to take that away from her.”
Passengers were returned to Buzzards Bay around 10 p.m., Noe said. Lights were out, so people on the train used cellphones and flashlights for illumination, he said.
“Even that became part of the magic for the kids,” Noe said.
Since the crash, Noe said he has been thinking of the two victims and their families.
“I do feel for the people involved, and the families of the people involved,” Noe said. “This close to the holiday season, it’s really tragic.”John Hilliard can be reached at email@example.com.