An elderly woman who stayed in a car stalled on railroad tracks died because she apparently did not realize that the man who was trying to get her out was there to save her life, authorities said Tuesday.
The 72-year-old woman, whose name was not released, died when the car she was in was struck by a train. She died at the scene Monday night at Valley Boulevard and Puente Avenue, said Larry Mead, a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department spokesman.
She was in a Toyota driven by her daughter, Jenny Duong, 41, and accompanied by Duong's 10-year-old daughter, Sharon Phong, and Duong's friend, Chuyen Nguyen, 20, Mead said.
The three women and the girl were heading home from a visit with relatives when Duong drove onto the railroad tracks before the crossing arm came down and turned into the tracks instead of going over, Mead said.
"The car got stuck westbound on the railroad tracks when Duong misjudged the distance between the tracks and Valley Boulevard," Mead said.
Bernard Vasquez, 29, noticed that the car following was stuck and saw a train about half a mile away, Mead said.
The Baldwin Park man ran to the aid of the women and the girl, but they thought he was trying to rob them and refused to open the doors, Mead said. Only the girl spoke English, but she apparently was too frightened to realize what was happening.
Vasquez then opened an unlocked door and managed to pull three of them to safety, but he was unable to get the grandmother out.
The train hit the Toyota at about 50 m.p.h., rupturing its fuel tank and sparking an explosion and fire, Mead said.
The three survivors were examined at a hospital and released.
Southern Pacific officials said the engineer saw the car about half a mile from the point of impact, but would have needed three times that distance to stop the train.