Brookfield officials have confirmed that the person who was fatally struck by a westbound Metra express train at the Prairie Avenue crossing just before 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 4 was Village Planner Kendra Kuehlem.
Police Chief Michael Kuruvilla said the investigation indicated Kuehlem’s death was accidental.
“We were able to secure video and witness statements that all corroborate that,” Kuruvilla said.
An eastbound Metra commuter train was stopped at the south platform at the time of the incident. The railroad gates were down and signals were active, said Kuruvilla. Kuehlem reportedly was attempting to cross the railroad tracks at Prairie Avenue from the north.
“It’s just horrendously tragic,” Kuruvilla said.
Immediately following the accident, Metra shut down all train traffic on the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe line. At about 6:15 p.m., Metra opened one track to allow “inbound and outbound train movement operating at restricted speed” through Brookfield. The Prairie Avenue grade crossing was reopened shortly before 8 p.m.
Village hall employees returning to work on Feb. 7 were greeted by yellow ribbons in memory of Kuehlem tied around the columns and along the railing of the village hall entrance. Assistant Village Manager George Issakoo said Cari Sheehan, an administrative assistant who worked with Kuehlem in the Community and Economic Development Department, put up the ribbons in her memory.
A grief counselor was onsite at village hall Feb. 7 as a resource for employees, who were still coming to grips with the loss, said Issakoo.
Kuehlem, 27, was hired as Brookfield’s village planner in April 2021. It was a homecoming of sorts for Kuehlem, who served as an intern in the village’s Community and Economic Development Department during the summer of 2017 shortly after graduating with a degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“Kendra was certainly an up-and-comer in the planning field and had a bright future ahead of her,” said Brookfield Village Manager Timothy Wiberg. “Not only from a staff perspective but her work with the plan commission and the village board, her presence is going to be missed by a lot of people. It makes it all the more tragic.”
Jennifer Hendricks, who worked with Kuehlem as both a member of the Brookfield Planning and Zoning Commission and as a village trustee, said Kuehlem leaves a legacy in Brookfield.
“She took on a challenging position in a very difficult year and handled it all with poise, energy and professionalism,” said Hendricks. “I think that the one bit of comfort I can take from this is that her profession as a planner made her legacy and her influence on our community tangible. We can look around Brookfield every day and see her there.
“I will miss her.”
Before returning to Brookfield in 2021, Kuehlem was an associate planner/zoning administrator in Plainfield. She had also served as an assistant planner in 2019 at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP).
An avid photographer, Kuehlem also had her own photography business. Kendra Christine Photography LLC, focusing on portraits and weddings.
As village planner in Brookfield, Kuehlem worked closely with the Brookfield Planning and Zoning Commission, reviewed building permits and development applications and wrote reports and recommendations related to zoning matters for the village board.
An online fundraiser has been started to support Kuehlem’s family and help with funeral expenses. The fundraiser can be found at gofundme.com.