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13-Year-Old Boy Is Hit, Killed by Blue Line Train

Accident: He stepped into its path after failing to look both ways while crossing the tracks, witnesses said.

July 17, 1999|CAITLIN LIU and RICH CONNELL | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A 13-year-old boy was killed Friday afternoon in South Los Angeles after he apparently hopped through a row of stopped freight cars and into the path of a Blue Line commuter train.

Gilberto Reynaga was struck by a southbound train at about 4:30 p.m. as he and a friend darted across the side-by-side rail tracks north of Slauson Avenue.

The boy, who had been playing basketball on one side of the tracks, was headed in the direction of his home on the other, witnesses said.

Police said the boys apparently jumped between the cars of a stopped Union Pacific freight train as warning signs sounded.

The boys looked one way when they came from the freight cars, witnesses said, but didn't realize the commuter train was approaching from the other direction.

"Every day we fear that something like this could happen," said Mabel Cail, who lives in the victim's apartment complex next to the rail corridor near Long Beach Avenue. The neighborhood has large numbers of children, she said, who constantly crisscross the freight and passenger tracks. "It's in a residential area . . . it would be much better if there [was] an overpass."

Gilberto, an eighth-grader with several siblings, was described by relatives as an avid ballplayer.

"He loved basketball," said his sister-in-law, Lillian Salazar. "He was happy, outgoing. . . . He was a sweet, sweet boy."

"He was the baby," said Gilberto's older brother, Everado.

Passengers on the Blue Line train said they saw the victim's friend dash away from the train.

"We saw him almost get hit. He was running. He seemed so scared," said L.P. Tutankhamon, a retired designer from South Central Los Angeles. "We were laughing."

But the feeling of relief turned to horror when the train made an emergency stop and they realized another child had been hit and dragged along the tracks.

Later, after the body had been removed, a black tennis shoe remained on the tracks. As one of Gilberto's relatives went to pick it up, investigators told her it had to remain where it was.

Gilberto was the first child on foot killed by a Blue Line train, a Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman said.

Friday's fatality was the second this year on the Blue Line. The first occurred less than a month ago when a man stepped in front of a train near the Watts station.

Forty-five people have been killed since service began between downtown Los Angeles and Long Beach in 1990, mostly motorists or pedestrians trying to go around barriers, said the MTA's Gary Wosk.

Fatalities are down slightly this year, Wosk said, partly because of new warning signs and increased distribution of safety literature.

Blue Line trains had to be routed around the accident scene Friday, slowing the evening rush-hour commute for thousands of Blue Line riders.

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