'Light of my life': Friends, family remember Brittany Bergsma, 18-year-old killed by train

Friends and family members gathered at a trackside memorial Monday to remember Brittany Bergsma, an 18-year-old girl with autism who was struck and killed Friday by a Via train in Ingersoll, Ont.

Unclear how girl who required near constant supervision managed to get onto train tracks Friday

Brittany Bergsma, 18, was struck and killed by a Via Rail train on Friday in Ingersoll, Ont. Brittany was on the autism spectrum. Family members who spoke to CBC News say her death was an accident. (Tasha Callow/Go Fund Me)

She was an 18-year-old who couldn't talk, but could juggle balls or catch any object tossed her way. 

She required almost constant supervision, but she loved to type the titles of Disney movies into YouTube, or use the animal filters on Snapchat. 

And on Friday, Brittany Bergsma somehow stepped onto the busy railway tracks that run through Ingersoll, Ont., where she was struck and killed by a westbound Via Rail train just after 7 p.m. 

On Monday, friends and family members struggled to make sense of the sudden death of a special girl on the autism spectrum who could project her sharp sense of humour, without being able to tell a joke with words.

"She was awesome," said Tasha Callow. "You could throw a ball to her and she'd catch it every time. She and my eight-year-old son were great friends. She will really be missed."

For eight years, Callow worked as Bergsma's respite worker. Callow liked her so much she continued to supervise Bergsma after the 18-year-old aged out of the system that paid for her care.   

Friends say Bergsma was staying with a relative when she somehow got onto the busy CN tracks near Mckeand Street. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

No foul play, police say

The OPP do not suspect foul play and have handed the investigation over to the CN Police Service. Family members who spoke to CBC News said they believe Bergsma's death was an accident. 

An online fundraising campaign is underway to help the family with funeral costs. 

A memorial to Brittany Bergsma forms near the spot where the 18-year-old was fatally struck by a train Friday evening. Bergsma was a student in the special needs program at Ingersoll District Collegiate Institute. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Bergsma was a student at Ingersoll District Collegiate Institute's special needs program. The Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) has sent in special counselors to help students struggling with the news of Bergsma's sudden death. 

A memorial of flowers has started to form where Mckeand Street curls into a cul-de-sac just north of the tracks.

'She was just so sweet'

Two of Bergmsa's aunts arrived there Monday afternoon. After watering the flowers placed there, the pair sat on the grass as a CN freight roared past. 

"She had this quietness about her because she was autistic but there was also all these fun little things she could do," an aunt named Christy told CBC News. "Like with Barbie legs, she could throw them into the air and catch them, no matter what."

It's not clear how Bergsma managed to get onto the tracks. Police confirm she entered the right-of-way from the north side of the rail line. A chain-link fence nearly two metres tall separates the tracks from Mckeand Street. 

But about 40 metres east of that spot the fence ends, leaving a large opening and direct access to the rail line. It's not clear if this is where Bergsma got onto the tracks

Barb, another aunt who visited the memorial Monday, said her niece's death is a tragic accident and a reminder of the danger posed by the busy rail lines that cut through southwestern Ontario.  

"She was just so sweet, she brought so much joy for everyone," she said. 

This gap is about 40 metres east of the spot where a fence separates the railway tracks from Mckeand Street. This is near the spot where police say Brittany Bergsma was struck and killed but it's not clear if it's this gap that allowed her access to the tracks. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

About the Author

Andrew Lupton

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Andrew Lupton is a B.C.-born journalist, father of two and a north London resident with a passion for politics, photography and baseball.