Paul Wellman

Three Train Deaths Examined

UCSB and Cal Poly Students Were Killed

[UPDATE, January 14, 3:15 p.m.]: Since publication, The Santa Barbara Independent has learned there was a fourth train death in the past two weeks. At 8:46 p.m. on Monday, January 4, 54-year-old Saralee Lua, a homeless woman, was hit by a northbound Amtrak train near Tank Farm Road in San Luis Obispo, The San Luis Obispo Tribune first reported.

Lua, who was reportedly lying in between the two sets of tracks, died from her injuries later that night at a local hospital. Autopsies ruled Lua’s death an accident and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student Aaron Matthew Wolf’s death five days later a suicide, according to a S.L.O. County Sheriff’s Office press release.

Three people were killed this weekend in fatal collisions with passenger-carrying Amtrak trains. The first, 60-year-old Norman Horion ​— ​a New Hampshire native, former Kansas City resident, and transient at the time of his death ​— ​was killed late Friday afternoon by Pacific Surfliner 790 near Lookout Park in Summerland. The engineer driving the train destined for San Diego repeatedly sounded the horn but was unable to make the emergency stop in time. Such trains generally travel 60 mph and require up to 1.2 miles to stop. After a train accident involving a pedestrian, it is “standard protocol” to switch engineers, said Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Kelly Hoover.

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student Aaron Matthew Wolf, reportedly 19, was struck by San Luis Obispo–bound Pacific Surfliner 777 on the tracks near Sweet Bay Lane as the train passed through rural S.L.O. on Saturday night. Wolf was a member of Cal Poly’s Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity.

On Sunday morning, 19-year-old Lillian T. Feng ​— ​a UCSB second-year and pre-psychology student from Davis ​— ​was similarly killed by San Diego–bound Pacific Surfliner 774 on the tracks below the Glen Annie and Storke Road overpass in Goleta. A musician and a member of UCSB’s Gaucho Pep Band, Feng had graduated from Davis Senior High School and lived in Isla Vista. Toxicology reports will be complete in four to six weeks, but the Sheriff’s Office is calling Feng’s death an apparent suicide based on witness statements immediately before her death. Amtrak trains are equipped with forward-facing cameras. If the victim appears to be aware the train is coming, the death is ruled a suicide, Sergeant Greg Weitzman of the Coroner’s Office previously told The Santa Barbara Independent.

Last year, six people died when they were struck by trains passing through Santa Barbara County ​— ​three took their own lives. Two of them were middle-aged homeless men. That was the highest number of such suicides since 2013, when four people were killed by trains, and three were deemed suicides. Over the past five years, two people on average have committed suicide by train each year in the county.

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