PORTAGE TOWNSHIP, Ind. (STMW) – Rita Roehrborn’s family has no idea how the 90-year-old Wisconsin woman ended up in Porter County, Ind., early Wednesday morning, where she was killed by a train.
Most likely, though, she got lost and the “very stubborn German” woman would rather keep driving than call for help, daughter-in-law Sharon Roehrborn said.
Roehrborn, of Sheboygan Falls, Wis., was driving east on County Road 600N near the border with Lake County about 2:25 a.m. when her 1991 Ford Escort got stuck on the Norfolk Southern train tracks that cross the road, according to a Porter County Sheriff’s Police release.
She was standing by the car as a train approached. The conductor saw her but couldn’t stop before hitting her and the car.
The release said it appeared Roehrborn was trying to wave down the train.
Sharon Roehrborn said her mother-in-law had left her hearing aids at home and possibly thought the train was a car, which she was probably trying to stop so it didn’t hit her own car.
Family members don’t know if they’ll ever fully know what prompted Roehrborn to drive from her home in Wisconsin to Indiana.
Sharon Roehrborn said her mother-in-law was last seen Tuesday morning buying groceries near her house. The two Roehrborn households live next door to one another. The oddest part, Sharon Roehrborn said, is that Rita Roehrborn’s car had registered an extra 700 miles, much more than the 250 miles it takes to get from her home to Porter County.
“She takes back roads just to go to the doctors,” Sharon Roehrborn said, adding that Roehrborn never ventured on the local interstate and hated driving in local traffic, which doesn’t compare to Milwaukee or Chicago traffic.
The family suspects Roehrborn got disoriented, possibly from a blood clot, and when she became lucid likely didn’t know where she was.
However, she had a fear of her license being taken away, so perhaps might have kept on driving instead of calling for help, her daughter-in-law said. She added that perhaps the long trip came from her sticking to back roads instead of major highways.
The family is hoping some clues will be found in Roehrborn’s car, perhaps some receipts showing where she was.
Sharon Roehrborn did thank the train conductor, saying she understood the train wasn’t able to stop in time and appreciated that he did make an attempt to stop.
She said her mother-in-law kept mostly to herself and liked to garden.
“She was a very stubborn German,” she said. “Very independent.”