(Garfield, New Jersey – October 3, 2011)
A popular, 13-year-old Garfield, NJ Middle School student/athlete died Monday afternoon just before 5:00 P.M. when he waited for a New Jersey Transit commuter train to pass, only to attempt to cross the tracks and be hit and killed by a NJT train in the opposite direction. Michael Cabaj of Garfield was on his way home from cross country practice at Garfield MS, riding a “kick scooter” called a “Razor”, when the tragedy, which was witnessed by a number of motorists and pedestrians, unfolded at the lighted, gated crossing of Outwater Lane in Garfield.
School officials and students alike were stunned and grieving Tuesday as word of the tragedy quickly circulated at the school. Garfield School Supt. Nicholas Perrapato, who said NJT representatives had given safety presentations at district schools in the past, noted that “the tracks run right through town. No matter what you try to enforce, there are some who will go ahead and do it anyway.”
The Garfield accident was the second in less than 18 hours on NJT rails, as two teenagers died and a third was injured Sunday night when they were caught on a trestle crossing Highway 46 and hit by an empty NJT passenger train. The trestle is known to be a convenient shortcut and access for teenagers to Willowbrook Mall in Wayne, NJ.
New Jersey Transit Spokeswoman Penny Bassett Hackett, who acknowledged that the young victim waited for the westbound train but apparently did not see the eastbound train until it was too late, said she did not know the speed of the train, but confirmed that the Monday accident was not the first fatality at the Outwater Lane crossing.
Federal Railroad Administration statistics show the timetable speed of NJT trains through the crossing to by 70 mph, and that Monday’s accident was the 6th incident and the third fatality at the crossing.