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Woman Killed by Train on Bridge Over Ventura River

Accident: Phyllis Smith and her husband were taking a walk and became trapped as commuter cars approached.

April 21, 1996|NICK GREEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

VENTURA — An Amtrak commuter train struck and killed a Yosemite-area woman who was trapped on a narrow bridge over the Ventura River estuary with her husband as they were walking Saturday afternoon.

Phyllis Smith, whose body was thrown by the train and lodged between the trestle's iron beams, was pronounced dead at the scene. Ross Smith, 51, was taken to a Ventura hospital with injuries to his right knee and ankle and suffering from shock, said Capt. Myles Smith of the Ventura Fire Department.

"According to the train's engineer, he saw them, he sounded his horn, they crouched down to one side and he knew there wasn't enough room," said Sgt. Richard Cook of the Ventura Police Department. "Their only alternative was to jump, and they didn't."

The bridge is only about 12 feet above the water's surface. But instead of leaping to safety after they were caught part of the way across the 200-foot wood-and-steel trestle, the pair instead apparently believed the bridge was wide enough for them to avoid the northbound train.

The bridge is 10 feet wide, and trains are between 8 and 10 feet wide, said a Southern Pacific employee who declined to give his name.

The train was traveling at about 35 mph and had left the Ventura station five minutes before the 5:45 p.m. accident, the railroad worker said.

En route to San Luis Obispo from Los Angeles, the commuter train stopped just north of the bridge and was delayed about 40 minutes.

Another Amtrak train, the Coast Starlight, was also delayed at Seacliff while authorities investigated the accident.

The couple had parked their recreational vehicle nearby and taken a walk shortly before sunset.

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