PENINSULA, Ohio - The father of a woman killed by a train says he will never really know why she was unaware of the danger, but acknowledges she was at least partially deaf and believes that may have contributed to the tragedy.
Heidi Howard, 38, had been out with friends at the Winking Lizard in Peninsula, but crossed the tracks of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad in an apparent effort to address a child who she felt was being mistreated.
"She did care about people. She didn't like to see anyone get abused or hollered at, or you know, she would remind them that they are children you have to respect them," her father Donald Howard said.
Family described Heidi Howard, who was the mother of a 15-year-old daughter, as someone who passionately cared for others and always put them ahead of herself, even at risk of being criticized for it.
"She was more of a leader than a follower. She had rules that she lived by for herself. She wasn't judgmental. She was always willing to help people, and if you were her friend and she was your friend, she'd do anything in the world for you," her father said.
Howard was returning to the restaurant at the time the train was crossing between Century Cycles and Winking Lizard.
Investigators said people tried to get her attention to warn her about the train as she approached the tracks.
"Investigators with the National Park Service have spoken to a tremendous number of witnesses and also with family members and other people that were here in the area. And the picture that we are getting is very consistent that people were yelling especially at the last moments trying to get her attention, but unfortunately it was unsuccessful," said Ivan Kassovic, a law enforcement supervisor with the Cuyahoga Valley National Parks.
Howard's father said her hearing difficulty may have contributed, although he told FOX 8 News she was wearing hearing aids at the time.
"She had a hearing aid in, but I think because of the location between the restaurant where she was at the bike shop on the other side and whistles. I know the whistles. It's constantly blasting. People are waving, you know, at the train, people from the train are waving back. So I'm only speculating that she went over to aid the kid, the train might have been down the track and when the matter was resolved and she was on her way back, who knows what was on her mind," said her father. "Her mind was probably thinking somewhere else and she didn't realize how close the train was to her."
Investigators with the Cuyahoga Valley National Parks are working with Peninsula police to complete their investigation.
Her father said Howard's death has left her family and friends heartbroken.
"She was a good person and one of a kind. If you met her you would always remember her," he said.