116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CARYN ROUSSEAU, Associated Press Writer
CHICAGO (AP) - The executive director of the Chicago area's Metra commuter train service died of an apparent suicide Friday after he stepped into the path of one of his agency's trains, authorities said.
Phil Pagano, 60, was on paid administrative leave at the time of his death after Metra began investigating allegations that he received an unapproved $56,000 bonus.
McHenry County Sheriff Keith Nygren said a train engineer put on the emergency brakes when he saw Pagano on the tracks about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Chicago Friday morning but was unable to stop. Pagano died instantly, he said.
"He stood on the tracks and he faced the train as the train was coming toward him," Nygren said.
Pagano's death came just hours before the Metra board of directors was scheduled to have an emergency meeting to discuss the investigation. Metra later canceled the meeting.
Two written notes were found, one in Pagano's pocket and one at his home, Nygren said.
"They're the type of note that would lead us to believe that this was an intentional act on the part of the deceased," Nygren said. "We have no reason to believe there's anything criminal involved in this."
Metra, a commuter train system that serves Chicago and its suburbs, announced on April 30 that Pagano was under investigation and that he had been placed on paid administrative leave from his $269,000-a-year job. Metra had hired an attorney to investigate allegations that the Metra executive director of 20 years had received an unauthorized $56,000 bonus. No further details were immediately available.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said Friday that he had asked the inspector general at the Department of Transportation to investigate what happened to federal funds that were sent to Metra and make sure they were spent properly.
"It's certainly something the taxpayers would expect and the 300,000 people who use Metra everyday want more federal dollars coming in, so we wanted to make sure that we'd done everything we were supposed to do with those dollars," Durbin said. No further details were immediately available.
Phone messages and e-mails left with Metra officials seeking comment about the investigations were not returned. Pagano's attorney George Jackson III said Friday that he had no comment.
"Phil served this agency with distinction for many years," Metra said in a statement. "We shall remember the good work he achieved with our board of directors and the men and women of Metra. He was dedicated to our passengers and he always considered the men and women of Metra his family.
The McHenry County Coroner Marlene Lantz said an autopsy was tentatively scheduled for Saturday. Pagano's wife and daughter were notified earlier Friday, the sheriff said.
Police said none of the 24 passengers and three employees aboard the Metra train were injured.
Associated Press writer Deanna Bellandi in Chicago contributed to this report.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.