JOE ROSE on these last two deaths by MAX, a truly horrible tragedy.
He really gives us a look at to who the woman and her son was. We very rarely get this kind of back story in Trimet related deaths
Even after her back gave up and she started using a motorized wheelchair, Bertha Kelly welcomed her son into her lap.
John Paul Kelly, 48, was developmentally disabled and lived in an adult care facility. When he visited his 66-year-old mother, they often took a MAX train to the farmer's market at the Gresham Kmart, neighbors said. "He liked to jump in her lap when he was happy," said Terra Schaller, who lived two doors down from Bertha Kelly at an East Portland apartment complex. "That's just what John Paul did. He liked going for a ride on her wheelchair."
At 11:25 a.m. Saturday, Bertha and John Paul were headed to the Kmart when they exited an eastbound Blue Line train at the Gresham City Hall MAX station.
After moving under the shelter at mid-platform, he reportedly sat on his mother's lap and accidentally hit her wheelchair's toggle controller, propelling them both into the gap between two coupled MAX cars as the train rolled away from the station, TriMet said.
The platform has a three-foot drop onto the tracks.
Bertha Kelly died at the scene. John Paul Kelly was pronounced dead after being taken by ambulance to a local hospital.
Schaller said Bertha Kelly's next door neighbor and best friend, Sue, was tagging along and on the MAX platform. Sue told neighbors that she reached out and tried to stop the wheelchair as it lurched forward, according to Schaller.
"She watched her best friend die today," she said, nodding grimly toward apartment 107. Bertha lived in No. 108. A hill of flowers and burning candles waited for her to come home.
"They were always doing things together," Schaller said. "Sue told me. She didn't want me to hear it from anybody else."
Bertha, who shared her apartment with three cats and a tarantula, was a retired nurse. Neighbors said she enjoyed puzzles and long conversations.
James Kelly, her grandson, said she was constantly in high spirits, always trying to help people, always volunteering for different causes. The conversation was brief. He said he had a hard time speaking through the shock of his grandmother's death.
James Kelly said his grandmother, who was widowed, started a using a wheelchair after severe back pain made it difficult for her to walk. John Paul, he said, "was her prized possession."
James Kelly said his uncle had Down syndrome. However, Schaller said Bertha Kelly told her that John Paul was born with his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, which cut off oxygen to his brain and left him with severe developmental disabilities.
She left behind another son, two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, he said.
The operator of the MAX train that killed Kelly and her son was initially unaware of the collision at Gresham City Hall and continued down the line, TriMet said.
"The operator reports that they were not aware of what had happened possibly until reaching the next station," said TriMet spokeswoman Roberta Altstadt.
MAX train deaths: Developmentally disabled man jumped in mother's lap 'when he was happy' | OregonLive.com