Teens land in hot water Railroad seeks criminal charges against teens after a near-miss with a train on June 30

Photo by Christian Knight

On any given summer day, teens flock to the trestle,

which crosses the Hood River at the powerhouse station. Climbing on or jumping from the trestle is trespassing, punishable by a fine and jail time.

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

July 27, 2005

Mt. Hood Railroad has requested that charges be filed against two teenage girls who recently trespassed on a train trestle.

If the 19-year-old females are not brought to court, then company officials would like them to at least receive a verbal reprimand. On June 30, both subjects — names withheld due to a federal health information protection law — were knocked from their perch on the railroad bridge when one was struck by a passenger boarding step. The train screeched to a halt and emergency responders were called to the scene just south of Hood River.

The girls sustained only minor injuries from their 15-foot plunge into the waterway — and Dan Reynolds, depot agent, is breathing a sigh of relief. He said the near-miss could have been a fatality and highlights the need for greater public education.

“The point here is that we need to spread the word that it is not only dangerous to be on a railroad bridge, it is also illegal,” he said.

Hood River County District Attorney John Sewell was unable to be reached for comment about whether charges would be filed over the incident.

Reynolds said the girls had crouched on the narrow ledge outside the tracks in hopes that the train would pass by safely. Both teens, who were baby-sitting two preteen boys, had scrapes and bruises but the boys were unhurt. The boys had managed to escape injury; one by leaping into the Hood River, and the other by crouching down on a trestle support beam.

“Unfortunately, summer brings along a lot of young people who have a tendency to disregard safety and disrespect the rules, and then end up in danger,” said Reynolds.

In fact, Hood River County Sheriff Joe Wampler said high temperatures in the past two weeks brought many people to the river. And deputies had to continually warn people away from the railroad bridge. Wampler said both marine and vehicle patrols have been increased to the area to help alleviate the problem.

“This is just not a safe place to hang out and parents need to warn their children about the potential danger,” said Wampler.

Reynolds said many Hood River natives grew up playing on the trestle and don’t believe it is unsafe. But, he said train traffic through the valley has quadrupled in the last 20 years and it is no longer a safe place to be.

Reynolds said there has also been a growing problem with pedestrians walking along the tracks in Odell. Or sitting along the railroad line to watch the train go by. He said train engineers have had a number of close calls in that community from young boys running onto the tracks to “moon” an approaching train. If one of these culprits fell, Reynolds said there would have been no way for the train to stop.

When the engineer saw the two girls on the trestle in the recent incident, the train was only traveling about 8 miles per hour. But, even by slamming on the brakes, Reynolds said the railroad cars traveled another 60 feet before coming to a complete stop.

“There’s a huge amount of mass once you get those giant cars rolling and they can’t swerve out of the way,” he said.

He said many people who live close to the railroad line in outlying communities believe they know the schedule for passing trains. Therefore, they seem to have a false confidence about being on the tracks between runs.

However, Reynolds said there are many more freight and maintenance cars now passing through the area, especially with the opening of Mt. Hood Forest Products. So, Reynolds said that cars should be expected at any time of the day or night.

“The railroad right of way has always seemed like a convenient pathway for anyone trying to get around. But crossing the tracks in any unauthorized place is against the law,” he said.

Reynolds routinely gives Operation Lifesaver presentations about safety issues regarding railroads to any interested community group or school. During that dialogue, he tells children, “Tracks are for trains, parks are for kids,”

Reynolds is hopeful that the well-publicized incident last month has fully illustrated that point.

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