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Father and son killed by a freight train in Fullerton

Virgil Lamphier and his 23-year-old son, David, were struck late Wednesday while on their weekly walk to rebuild their relationship. A family member says they were not train-spotting.

November 06, 2009|Dana Parsons

They'd been a father and son estranged -- going long periods barely speaking -- but who in recent months had begun the path to reconciliation on late-night walks to a nearby Fullerton train yard.

Late Wednesday, however, Virgil Lamphier, 56, and his son, David, 23, were struck and killed by a Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight train as the pair walked the tracks about 11:15 p.m.

What the two were doing on the tracks is still unclear. Authorities initially speculated that they had been train-spotting. But although many people are fascinated by trains and enjoy watching them roll through town, the Lamphiers weren't among them, said Summer Lamphier, the 27-year-old daughter of the older victim and sister of David Lamphier. She didn't recall them ever mentioning trains.

Rather, she said, the tracks were merely a nearby destination for the pair's weekly nocturnal walks that allowed the men to talk about things both large and small.

"It was like their bonding time," she said Thursday. "They'd go out and do that and reconnect. It wasn't to go to the train tracks. It was their space, their time. It had zero to do with the trains themselves."

As she talked outside of the family home in Fullerton, she occasionally quaked with emotion, but spoke quietly and without tears. Inside, Bobbie Lamphier, Virgil Lamphier's wife and David Lamphier's mother, was too distraught to talk, her daughter said.

Virgil Lamphier had left the family about 15 years ago, Summer Lamphier said. But he returned several months ago, and family members began working on repairing fractured relationships.

The father-son wound was especially tender, she said.

"My brother had a lot of hurt from Dad leaving the family," she said. "There were things my brother needed to get off his chest, so they'd go and try to make amends. Sometimes the talks were serious, sometimes just talking about how their days went. That's all it was. Dad would come home and say, 'David got a lot off his chest tonight,' or other times he'd say, 'We didn't really talk, we just walked together.' "

Summer Lamphier credits her brother, who leaves behind a wife, Gerra, with reaching out to their father.

"My brother is the kind of person who does anything for you," she said, still speaking of him in the present tense. " . . . He's so young; he's 23. He's such a good man already. Dad had hard times, but my brother took him back into the house. They were reconciling, trying to make that father-son bond."

The two had been working for the same auto mechanics company in Fullerton. Both were laid off last week, Summer Lamphier said.

About 11 p.m. Wednesday, Bobbie Lamphier texted her husband and asked when he and their son would be back. He told her it would be within the half-hour. When they didn't return, she drove to the area and was met by police.

On Thursday morning, several family members had gathered at the Lamphier home. Emotions ran high.

"It makes no sense at all," Summer Lamphier said. "It's like it's not real. I see on television that a father and son were killed by a train, and it's like I'm being told for the first time over and over. It's not real. It's not."


Times staff writer My-Thuan Tran contributed to this report.

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