The Investigators

Feb 3, 2013 12:35 AM by Nichole Szemerei

Walk the tracks, risk your life

TUCSON - Roughly 20 people are injured by trains every year in Southern Arizona, about a handful die from those injuries. That's not including suicides.

"They didn't set out that day to die, they just made simple mistakes,'' says Jon Hurst, who has seen death three times on the tracks. "These are great big giant monsters and they're very unforgiving."

Hurst and Henry Zappia, both retired Union Pacific engineers, think complacency is partly to blame.

"There's no train today, there's no train tomorrow, the third day, you've already decided, there's no train," says Hurst.

"They may cross over railroad tracks numerous time and not even see a headlight and then the one time that things are much closer and they think they have enough time, sometimes they don't," says Zappia.

Four people died on Southern Arizona tracks in 2011 and two more in the first nine months of 2012.

"I don't know anybody that has had some years on in railroad service and hasn't had some incident. It's just, it comes with the job," says Zappia.

It's a job that takes its toll.

"It brings back memories. Circumstances are always different, but you never forget.>

Michelle Williams lost her brother on the tracks off Main Avenue between Speedway and St Mary's 19 years ago. She thinks he was trying to beat the train.

"My gentle giant, my great warrior, David thought he was invincible," she says.

His life was gone in an instant, his family left with broken hearts and very little information.
"We tried to contact the railroad, the conductor and all of them refused to speak to us on what happened, what they saw. So, there's always been a mystery on how exactly did this happen, was he laying on the tracks, was he running across the tracks, was he quietly walking across the tracks and he maybe just didn't hear the train or see the train," says Williams.

Operation Lifesaver is an organization spreading awareness and teaching proper safety.

"It's very hard to gauge the speed of how fast that train is approaching," says Zappia.

Michelle knows this all too well.

"It's not really talked about, train accidents very much. I think there's a stigma that they're tied to suicides and that's not always the case. A lot of these deaths are accidents, they could've been prevented."

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