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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Driver Dies After Train Hits Car at Private Crossing

Accident: Witnesses say field worker, 58, stopped at tracks near La Colonia and looked both ways before proceeding. No Amtrak passengers were injured.

September 13, 2000|HOLLY J. WOLCOTT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

OXNARD — An Oxnard man was killed Tuesday afternoon on his 58th birthday when his car was struck by an Amtrak passenger train at an unprotected railroad crossing, authorities said.

Ramon Jasso Pina had picked pimentos all day and was leaving his job at Filer Farms in the La Colonia area when the crash occurred shortly before 3 p.m.

"He was a real good worker," said a teary Tony Vazquez, a farm supervisor who along with several employees watched as police investigated the scene off Oxnard Boulevard near the local train station.

According to authorities, Pina stopped at a posted stop sign at the private railroad crossing near Robert Avenue and then unknowingly drove into the path of the southbound Pacific Surfliner.

The impact of the 490-ton train, which was traveling at about 50 mph and headed toward the Oxnard Transportation Center, sent Pina's car tumbling more than 175 feet down the tracks before it came to rest on its wheels in a grassy patch along Oxnard Boulevard.

"The impact was directly on the passenger side," said Ventura County Deputy Coroner Craig Stevens. "The passenger door was crunched in roughly to the center console."

Although an autopsy was scheduled for today, Stevens said there were no signs of trauma on the victim, indicating he died of massive internal injuries. At the time of the crash, Pina was not wearing a seat belt, authorities said.

"Witnesses said he stopped and checked both sides before crossing," said Oxnard Police Sgt. Marty Meyer. "I don't know why he didn't see it."

The crossing is on a dirt road that leads in and out of the farm. Drivers can reach Oxnard Boulevard by crossing over the tracks and then driving through a gap in the curb.

The spot is marked with a stop sign and another sign that indicates the crossing is on private property. There are no crossing-arm barricades and no flashing red lights, but Amtrak officials said the law does not require the property owner to install such safety devices.

"It is their responsibility. The state can't regulate what's being done there," said Jennifer McMahon, an Amtrak spokeswoman. "The owner of the property is free to negotiate with the owner of the track to do that."

The train's conductor, Ken Azzato, sounded the train's horn before reaching the intersection, which is required by federal law, McMahon said. None of the 44 train passengers was injured, and the train resumed its route about an hour after the crash. The final destination was San Diego.

All lanes of Oxnard Boulevard were closed for more than an hour during rush hour as authorities worked to clean up several lanes that were covered with small rocks that shot out from underneath the car as it was dragged along the track.

In addition to several co-workers, who appeared visibly upset, the victim's brother, Francisco Pina, arrived on the scene shortly after the crash and identified the victim. Both Pina and Vazquez drove to the victim's home in Oxnard to notify his wife. The family was not immediately available for comment.

Several officers said there had been other train crashes in Oxnard, but none could remember an incident at this specific site. Other crashes in the county, though, have occurred at similar unprotected crossings, authorities said.

On May 20, Ventura chef Charles Vincent Despenza III was killed when his car was struck by a train at an unmarked railroad crossing near Emma Wood State Beach in Ventura.

Three days later, 16-year-old Drew Diederich was struck and killed by a train after he darted onto railroad tracks in Moorpark while running from police.

Times photographer Steve Osman contributed to this report.

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