(Austin, Texas – April 30, 2012)
The 32-year-old single father of two young boys died about 7:45 A.M. Monday morning, and his two young sons were seriously injured, when their small white sedan was struck on the driver’s side and shoved to an adjacent crossing by a Capital MetroRail train at the dangerous, unguarded crossing of Khalbau Road and Austin MetroRail tracks in suburban north Austin.
The Khalbau Road crossing, which has a gravel surface, serves a small subdivision and is considered a “private” crossing protected only by passive signage and has no automatic devices such as flashing lights, gates or bells to prevent such tragedies.
The victim, Jeremy Barta, the manager of a local Mr. Gatti’s pizza restaurant, had only lived in the subdivision for a month. He was pronounced dead at the scene after attempts at resuscitation failed.
Neither police nor Capital Metro sources would identify the children, but did say the young boys, who were being driven to school by their father, were rushed to Dells Children’s Medical Center in Austin. One boy was able to free himself from the wreckage, but his brother required extrication maneuvers to facilitate his rescue. Both were hysterical and bleeding heavily.
Nearby residents were highly critical of the safety of the crossing. Scott Eason, with whom the victims lived, told Austin TV station KVUE that he had warned the city about the crossing, but never thought his dire predictions would come true.
“I told the world, I told anyone who would listen. I said ‘People are going to die at this rail crossing’. I never thought it would be my roommate.”
“I’m concerned about other crossings,” echoed Eason’s wife, Sarah.
Another neighbor, Carolyn Fricke, who lives just a few feet from the site of the deadly tragedy, told Austin TV station KXAN that the wreck was bound to happen because the trains are electric and operate so quietly that residents often don’t hear them coming. In addition, she reiterated that it was only a matter of time before the accident happened because trains do not honk their horns to alert motorists or pedestrians of their presence.
“We’ve called and reported it to the city,” said another area resident, Heather Rocchi. “It shouldn’t have happened at all. The city should have taken more precautions and made this a little safer.”
CapMetro Spokesperson Erica McKewen defended her trains’ crews’ failure to blow their horns for the crossing because private crossings require neither the sounding of train horns nor the installation of crossing gates.
Although it was claimed none of the 128 passengers and crew aboard were injured, a female passenger was, indeed, transported to a hospital.