Former marine, 27, fatally electrocuted after urinating on CTA tracks in south Evanston

Marshall Cohen

A former Marine preparing to graduate from college this summer was electrocuted Sunday night after falling onto a powered rail at a Chicago Transit Authority station in south Evanston.

Zachary McKee, 27, stepped down onto the tracks to urinate, said Evanston Police Department spokesman Cmdr. Jay Parrott. He may have been intoxicated when he fell onto the electrically charged “third rail” that provides power to the trains, Parrott said.

The Cook County medical examiner determined Monday that the cause of death was accidental electrocution, Parrott said.

Police went to the South Boulevard station, 601 South Blvd., around 11 p.m. and discovered McKee unresponsive on the tracks. He was pronounced dead at St. Francis Hospital less than one hour later, Parrott said.

McKee, a resident of Ossian, Ind., served with the U.S. Marine Corps for four years in Iraq and Japan until 2010. He was in Chicago during the weekend to visit friends and watch the Cubs play the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday, according to his Twitter account.

“Going to be a crazy weekend in Chicago,” McKee tweeted last week.

Sunday afternoon, he posted a photograph of a Wrigleyville bar, tweeting “All u can drink, play ball.”

A senior at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, McKee was preparing to graduate with a political science degree in just a few months.

“The loss of any student is hard to take,” said George McClellan, the school’s vice chancellor for student affairs. “But the loss of a student who had so much promise, was so close to graduation and who has already made important contributions to our campus community is particularly hard.”

McClellan said McKee was a “popular” student leader who was actively involved on campus as a member in the judicial branch of the Student Government Association. He also had an internship at one of the field offices of U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.).

“He was really well-respected in his academic department,” McClellan said. “I knew Zack as a member of our judicial board, but I also knew him because I hear from faculty members about students that they think highly of.”

At the time of the incident, McKee was with two other men from Indiana, ages 25 and 28, Parrott said. They notified the security guard who, as per protocol, called the CTA control center in Chicago, said CTA spokeswoman Lambrini Lukidis. Operators at the control center then called 911 at 11:05 p.m.

There is surveillance video of McKee going down onto the tracks, Parrott said. Lukidis noted that this was an illegal act and is considered criminal trespassing.

“Not only is it trespassing but it is extremely dangerous,” Lukidis said. “There is signage throughout the rail stations and along the tracks, but unfortunately people go on the right-of-way.”

Lukidis said the incident provides an opportunity to educate the public about the risks of stepping onto the tracks, especially touching the powered “third rail.” This was the second incident in 2012 of electrocution after touching the third rail, which is charged with five times as much electricty as most household appliances.

“There are three rails there,” Lukidis said. “People should know which one is the one that could kill them.”

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