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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Moorpark Teen Killed by Train

Tragedy: The 16-year-old boy, who was apparently under the influence of drugs, bolted from a car during a deputy's traffic stop and jumped onto nearby tracks.

May 25, 2000|TINA DIRMANN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOORPARK — A 16-year-old Moorpark boy believed to be on LSD ran from police, scaled an 8-foot fence, jumped onto nearby railroad tracks and stared down an oncoming freight train until it ran him over.

Drew Diederich was pronounced dead at the scene Tuesday night, authorities said.

Hours later, at her modest home, the boy's mother called the death a tragic result of drug use and pleaded for donations to the drug rehabilitation program her son attended.

"I want other kids to benefit from this," said Gretchen Diederich, her soft voice grower louder. "This wasn't the kid we knew. This wasn't a depressed kid. This was our love. But if you're on acid, where's your brain?"

Gretchen Diederich last saw her son early Tuesday evening. He gave her a kiss on the cheek and promised to be home by 10 p.m.--the city's curfew for minors.

But just after 11, a Ventura County sheriff's deputy spotted a carload of teens pulling out of a Vons parking lot. He called for backup as he pulled them over at High and Walnut streets.

The officer said he believed the occupants of the vehicle had been using drugs as he ordered Drew Diederich and three other teenagers out of the car.

Police say Diederich bolted from the car and jumped an 8-foot chain-link fence. Deputies didn't pursue him. They stayed with the three friends, assuming they could catch up to Diederich later, if necessary.

Minutes passed before deputies searching the car heard a radio dispatch that a freight train had run over a pedestrian. Authorities, who found no drugs in the car, let the other teens go with a warning and rushed to the tracks, where they discovered the victim was Diederich.

Friends and his mother said he may have fled because he had a previous record for violating curfew or because he knew he had been using LSD that night.

Authorities have not yet declared the incident a suicide, but John Bromley, a spokesman for Union Pacific Railroad, said Diederich appeared unwilling to step out of the train's path as it hurtled toward him blowing its whistle.

"He walked onto the tracks, faced the train, and made no attempt to move," Bromley said.

Later that night, Gretchen Diederich said she suddenly woke from a deep sleep and realized her son, the youngest of her three children, had not been to her room to say good night. He always did that after an evening out with friends, just to let her know he was home safe.

Startled, Diederich, a divorced mother raising her son alone, wandered down the hall to his room.

"I just put my hand on the doorknob to his room when the doorbell rang," said a tearful Diederich. "It was the guy from the coroner's office. I knew."

Gretchen Diederich described her son as a kid who loved life. She said he was an upbeat person, popular among his peers, loved by his family.

But she doesn't doubt the police account of what happened. She is certain it was a drug-induced paranoia that led Drew to the tracks Tuesday night. Her son tried to stay away from acid, she said.

"Actually, he hated the stuff," she said. "But you know how peer pressure is. You don't want to look like a sissy. It's hard."

Drew was enrolled in the Palmer Drug Abuse Program.

His mother said Drew was doing well and had a part-time job as a busboy at a local restaurant.

Previous problems with school had disappeared recently, his mother said. Her son never liked academics. But things got worse after a classmate began picking on him, she said. The disagreements ended in fistfights, prompting the woman to transfer her son from Moorpark High to the city's continuation campus, Moorpark Community School.

While there, he flourished, becoming popular on campus since enrolling in March, according to friends.

"He was one of the good ones," said classmate Dominic Wilson, 18. "He didn't deserve to die young."

"He was a nice kid, a happy kid," said Mario Porto, a teacher for the alternate school. "He enjoyed being here. I had him in class and never had a problem with him."

A crisis team was brought to the school Wednesday to counsel grieving students. Many stood outside classes talking about the loss, hugging one another for support.

It was a difficult day. Horn blasts from trains running behind the school served as a constant reminder of the tragedy.

"It wasn't a good sound for the kids to hear, I'm sure." Porto said. "You never really think about it, because it's just a train. But today a lot of people were thinking about it."

Relatives said Diederich talked about one day attending Moorpark College, and using his natural talent as a fix-it man to get a technical degree as a mechanic.

And he continued with rehabilitation counseling, his mother said. But it's difficult for a teenager to stay clean in a community where access to drugs is so easy, said a visibly angry Diederich.

"His friends have told me, 'There's not a kid we know that hasn't been on drugs,' " she said. "That's how rampant it is."

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