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Train Kills Girl at Teen Hangout

The Ventura 15-year-old was talking to friends at a popular gathering place that residents often use as a shortcut to the beach.

March 14, 2004|Caitlin Liu and Amanda Covarrubias | Times Staff Writers

A 15-year-old girl at a popular teenage hangout near railroad tracks in Ventura was killed Friday night after being hit by an Amtrak train.

Margaret Heinkle, a Ventura High School student, had been "talking and loitering" with five other teens near a double set of tracks at the Seaward Avenue over-crossing near Vista Del Mar Drive when two trains approached from opposite directions, Ventura Police Lt. David Wilson said Saturday.

A slow-moving freight train rumbled past them at about 9 p.m. Then an Amtrak train, which authorities said was traveling about 50 mph, passed in the opposite direction.

The Amtrak engineer, who apparently saw the girl, applied the emergency brakes but couldn't stop in time, police said. She died at the scene, according to authorities.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday March 16, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Train victim -- The name of Margaret Heinkel, who died when she was hit by a train Friday in Ventura, was misspelled as Heinkle in some editions of Sunday's California section.

Heinkle's friends told authorities that they didn't see the accident and didn't realize anything was wrong until they saw the Amtrak train stop. "They don't know if she was trying to cross the tracks and got caught between" the two trains, Wilson said.

No passengers or crew members on the train were injured, according to Amtrak. The incident caused a 2 1/2-hour delay to train traffic.

The unfenced stretch of railway where Heinkle died is a common hangout for teens on weekend nights, as well as a shortcut to the nearby beach for young and old alike, neighbors said. Shortly before the crash, Heinkle -- who was known as Maggie to her friends -- was laughing and seemed happy, according to neighbors who saw her.

"They're just being kids. They're not doing anything bad," said Jennifer Schooler, who lives nearby. "She was at the wrong place at the wrong time."

Another resident, Susan Renteria, said, "People are always crossing through the tracks there, whether they're jogging or riding their bicycles or walking."

Across the country, pedestrian deaths on railroad tracks have fallen over the last decade, an encouraging trend that authorities say can be credited to public safety campaigns and greater awareness about the dangers.

In 1993, 1,032 people were killed or injured while walking on railroad tracks, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. Last year, there were 898 injuries or fatalities.

Authorities say the tragedy should serve as a reminder for people to stay away from railroad tracks.

"This was something that could've been prevented," said Marcie Golgoski, a spokeswoman for Amtrak. "You shouldn't be near the railroad tracks. It's a dangerous place to be."

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