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New Mexico Police Investigation Shows Engineer’s View in Fatality Blocked by Blind Spot

(Santa Fe, New Mexico – July 14, 2014)

The release Friday of a Santa Fe, NM Police Dept. report on the second train/bicyclist fatality in two months revealed that neither the victim nor the locomotive engineer whose train struck the man on a bicycle ever saw each other before they collided at the St. Michael’s Drive New Mexico DOT “Rail Runner” crossing with the state-owned heavy rail passenger commute system this past June 16.

Joseph Salazar, 41, of Espanola, NM died in the accident, the second bicycle/commuter train fatality in two months. The first, which occurred in April, resulted in the death of Suzanne LeBeau, 60, of Santa Fe, NM, when she rode her bike across the path of another Road Runner commuter train at the crossing of NMDOT tracks and Zia Street. The police report on the first tragedy indicated that she, as in the June 16 accident, “seemed unaware of the lights and bells” which control auto traffic but not the sidewalk/bike train crossing. In both tragedies, SFPD officers were able to review videos taken by a camera at the front of each train.

The police report in the most recent collision indicated, as did the earlier one, that the train was traveling at 25 mph and no horn was sounded due to the route through Santa Fe being a “whistle ban” territory. But the June accident report concluded that not only was the horn never blown, as is required under emergency situations, but that no emergency braking was applied and that the train continued to the next station without stopping because the locomotive engineer‘s view was blocked by a “blind spot” in the cab car (the train was operating in reverse, with the unoccupied locomotive pushing the train and being remote-controlled by the engineer in the small cab car control space).

The police report went on to explain that what the video camera recorded and what the engineer could see were from two different perspectives. “The cab/car has another window that is next to the engineer’s seat and there is a blind spot between the front and side window that would obstruct her view.”

“What we saw in the video was very unfortunate,” commented SFPD Spokeswoman Celina Espinoza. “The bicyclist was just completely unaware of the train,” she continued, explaining that the victim was not wearing head phones or a helmet which might have kept him from hearing the crossing bells or seeing the flashing lights, which do not control sidewalk traffic, even though “the train is headed straight at him.”

“The front view video shows Salazar continuing to pedal on the sidewalk on the north side of St. Mike’s across the tracks without looking up before impact,” says Writer Andy Stiny in an article in Friday’s Albuquerque Journal. “Another camera view shows Salazar about 3 feet from the tracks after the crash as a male is running toward him to render aid. The white baseball-style cap that Salazar wore is a few feet away.”