The parents of Connor O’Keefe, the Santa Barbara High School student killed by a train last March, have filed legal papers suing Amtrak, Caltrans, the County of Santa Barbara, and the City of Santa Barbara, but not — conspicuously — Union Pacific, which owns the railroad tracks. O’Keefe was killed while walking along the tracks near Fernald Point. The lawsuit alleges the named parties failed to provide adequate signage, access restrictions, warning, and protection for people crossing the tracks to get to and from the nearby beach.
Anthony Vieira, attorney for the parents, described this area as “a concealed trap,” adding, “Defendants failed to warn [O’Keefe] of the trap.” Likewise, the lawsuit alleges that train engineer Gavin Todd was not properly trained to blow the horn and slow down as he rounded the bend near Ortega Hill. As a result, Todd “failed to apply the brakes … to give the decedent more time to get out of the path … and failed to repair fencing in the area that allowed persons to access the railroad bed and tracks even though the Defendants had actual knowledge of pedestrians’ frequent use of the railroad track and bed to access Fernald Point and Shark’s Cove.”
O’Keefe was known as a talented water polo player. Friends said he was struggling with depression at the time of his death, giving rise to speculation that his demise was self-inflicted. The Coroner’s Office found otherwise and ruled the death accidental.
Train deaths have grown more common in recent years. According to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, there have been 26 train deaths in Santa Barbara County from 2015 through 2017. Of those, half were deemed accidental.