(Pajaro, California – January 27, 2013)
A 45-year-old woman died just a few feet from her home and four other residents of a Pajaro, CA mobile home park, three of them children, were seriously injured Sunday afternoon at about 4:00 P.M. when a Union Pacific freight train struck a white Honda Civic containing all the victims at the dangerous, unguarded crossing of the residential area’s entrance road, just off Allison Road near Watsonville, CA.
Killed was Maria Lopez Vasquez, a resident of the mobile home park and a passenger in the front seat of the car. Whether or not there was any relationship between the fatal victim and the as-yet unnamed 27-year-old driver or the three children, ages 2, 7 and 12, all of whom were in the back seat, was not determined. The carload was on a trip to the grocery store.
The driver was airlifted to the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, CA, while the children, who suffered lesser injuries, were all taken to the Watsonville Community Hospital for treatment.
The crossing, which had only a private crossing sign and a stop sign as “protection”, lacking flashing lights, gates or bells. The driver appeared to have seen the train when she was already on the crossing, stopped, and attempted to reverse, but was too late. The car was dragged 150 feet down the track before being flung aside, while the train, which California Highway Patrol Sgt. Carl Churchfield said was going between 25 and 35 mph, went 1,000 feet beyond the crossing before grinding to a halt.
Although the train crew claimed the locomotive’s horn was being blown, such is not required in advance of a private crossing, and witnesses, who included the victim’s daughter, Alejandra Lopez, did not hear the train’s horn, hearing only the terrible crash itself. She and other witnesses recalled that train operators do not always sound the locomotives’ horns when they approach the crossing.