Neighbors say young partygoers often use this wooden chute to access Shark's Cove from the train tracks above. | Credit: Courtesy

Neighbors are calling on Union Pacific Railroad to block an access point to a popular party spot near Fernald Point after a 15-year-old Santa Barbara High School student was fatally struck there by a train this week, the second young person killed along the same stretch of tracks in recent years.

“All the neighbors are just crushed,” said Robert Anderson, who lives up the beach from the secluded Montecito hangout, also known as Shark’s Cove. “It’s such a shame it happened again,” he said.

Ryan Chapman, 15 years old and a Santa Barbara High School student, was attending a birthday get-together when he was hit by an Amtrak Pacific Surfliner at around 1:45 p.m. on Wednesday, officials said. No other details were released.

The following day, the school set up a Compassion Center in its Alumni Room that will continue throughout the week. It was the second tragedy to strike the Chapman family. In 2022, Ryan’s father, Paul, was killed in a skiing accident in Wyoming.

Anderson called an old wooden chute that connects the train tracks above to Shark’s Cove below an “attractive nuisance” that beachgoers use to scramble down the bluffs, a legal term he hopes will get Union Pacific’s attention.

“I see people on it all the time,” Anderson said. “It’s on Union Pacific property, and this is something they need to address.” Anderson suggested removing the chute and placing boulders to block the path. “The onus is on them to do something,” he said. “They’re on notice.”

Mike Jaixen, a senior communications manager for Union Pacific said, “Safety is Union Pacific’s number one priority, and we urge pedestrians to only cross railroad tracks at designated crossings.”

The main entry point to Shark’s Cove is approximately half-a-mile west off Posilipo Lane, which becomes inaccessible during high tide.

“Our Public Affairs team was recently made aware of the community’s concerns,” Jaixen continued. “Our team will work with the community to discuss and consider any requests the community might propose to address trespassers on Union Pacific property.”

In 2017, high school senior Connor O’Keefe was killed on the tracks above the cove. His parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit the following year against Union Pacific, Amtrak, and the County of Santa Barbara, alleging all three failed to provide adequate signage, access restrictions, and warnings for people crossing the tracks to and from the beach.

That Saturday afternoon, according to officials, O’Keefe was with friends when he went back to their car to retrieve a camera, walking northbound on one side of the tracks while talking on his cell phone. The northbound train was travelling approximately 50 miles per hour and struck O’Keefe from behind.

The coroner report ruled the death an accident. In their lawsuit, O’Keefe’s parents claimed that the Amtrak engineer was not properly trained to blow the horn and slow down as he rounded the tree-lined bend, an area they described as “a concealed trap.”

They also accused Union Pacific of failing to repair existing fencing along the route “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.”

The case is pending.

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