(San Jose, California – January 17, 2014)
A northbound Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority hit a 14-year-old Del Mar High School freshman student Danika Garcia Friday morning at about 7:30 A.M. as she peddled her bike to school. The loss of the talented choir member has devastated the student body, who have set up a memorial to honor their fallen friend at the intersection of Stokes Street, Southwest Expressway and VTA railroad tracks.
The double-tracked intersection accommodates 116 trains daily at top speeds of 55 mph. A sign at the crossing indicates that trains do not regularly sound their horns as they approach the crossing, but witnesses, of whom there were many, seem to agree that the train’s operator honked when he saw the victim crossing.
The crossing has light, gate and bell warning devices, but witnesses also are adamant that the crossing gate that was supposed to bar Danika’s path did not drop in place and she seemed unaware of the train’s approach.
The victim was rushed to and admitted at a San Jose Hospital with severe injuries, of which she succumbed later in the day Friday.
Among her fellow Del Mar students who witnessed the tragedy at a crossing that they’ve always considered dangerous, Cristofer Torres, who was walking directly behind the victim, told Bay Area ABC-affiliate KGO-TV that “One of the arms from the train (crossing) wasn’t going down. So she was riding her bike and all of a sudden she didn’t see the train and she just hit the train,” he recalled.
The Santa Clara Sheriff’s Dept., which has law enforcement jurisdiction over the multi-city light rail route, was using witness statements and video from the train, whose operator went through a mandatory post-accident drug test, to investigate whether or not the crossing arm did, indeed, go down properly. The victim was allegedly wearing head phones, but such would not have prevented her from seeing if the gates lowered in front of her.
Sadly, Danika was scheduled to sing the Bruno Mars song “When I was your man” in front of the entire Del Mar student body during a school fund-raiser later in the day for the Make-A-Wish charitable foundation. Instead, school officials and students observed the young girl’s untimely passing with a moment of silence at the event.