(Westport, Connecticut – December 31, 2013)
A highly successful educator and single mother of three children was run killed by a westbound Metro North (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) passenger train Thursday evening at about 6:40 P.M. as she tried to reach the Saugatuck, CT railroad depot in order to catch a M-N train. The accident in which Annette L. White, 46, a native of Maine but current resident of the Owenoke Park area in Westport, CT, was not even reported to MTA or Westport police authorities, but rather was considered an “unconfirmed strike” and as such, reported only to M-N’s Operations Control Center at New York’s Grand Central Terminal.
The tragedy – which came at the close of one of the most disastrous years in Metro North history – began to unfold Friday morning as a duck hunter in a kayak found the victim’s body floating near the mouth of the Saugatuck River, and was then reported Tuesday by a passenger who had been aboard the fatal train and recalled that the train had halted abruptly and remained stopped for about 20 minutes as the train’s crew searched the area near the bridge and found little evidence of a collision other than “slight damage done to the front of the train”, read about the finding of the victim’s body and reported his fears to police, who then investigated.
“I think Metro-North goes by the assumption that whatever was on the tracks was not there any longer,” surmised MTA Spokesman Salvatore Arena, who added that “If it was a piece of debris, it would not rise to the level that it had to be reported to the MTA Police.”
Divers Tuesday found both an earring and a cell phone later identified as belonging to the victim on top of a bridge pier supporting M-N’s bridge across the Saugatuck River, while the results of a chief medical officer’s autopsy revealed that Ms. White had suffered injuries “consistent with someone who had been struck by a train.” According to Westport Police Captain Vincent Penna, White was unfamiliar with the area, and had sought to reach the train station by walking across the railroad bridge crossing the river, where she was struck by the train. The bridge had a pedestrian walkway, but such was located on the opposite side of the bridge from where she was walking toward the station
The victim had moved to the Council Bluffs, IA area following her marriage to Alan Jankiewicz, but returned to New England following her divorce 18 months ago after 22 years of marriage. She had been a college psychology professor in Iowa, and was listed as the owner-operator of the “Points of Light Education and Support Center” after her return to Maine.
According to Ms. White’s former sister-in-law, Suzanne Jankiewicz Mortensen, she was “A very loving mother,” who was “crazy about her kids” (son and daughter Nolan and Bailey, who are college students, and daughter Kendra, a high school senior). Mrs. Mortensen also reported that the victim’s children were taking the news of their mother’s death “very hard.”
The Metro-North Railroad is currently undergoing heavy scrutiny from a number of state and federal agencies, including the National Transportation Safety Board, for an epidemic of accidents which began earlier this year, and included:
On December 1, a Metro-North locomotive engineer allegedly “nodded off and caught himself too late”, allowing the passenger train he was operating to attain a speed of 82 mph as it entered a 30 mph speed-restricted curve. The ensuing derailment killed four passengers and injured another 67 in the Bronx, NY;
On July 18, a CSX freight train travelling over the exact same track in the Bronx derailed in an accident later blamed on a broken rail connector;
On May 28, a novice train dispatcher allowed a westbound M-N passenger train to enter a section of West Have, CT track upon which a M-N track maintenance foreman was working after requesting that the track be taken out of service to allow repairs. The foreman was killed when the erroneously-allowed train struck him;
Finally, on May 17, two M-N passenger trains headed in opposite directions collided in Bridgeport, CT due to the derailment of one, resulting in non-fatal injuries to 76 passengers and employees.