Teens' Deaths On Light Rail Called Accident By Mta

July 08, 2009|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,michael.dresser@baltsun.com

The two teens fatally struck Sunday near the Lutherville light rail station were hit as they walked in the middle of the tracks with their backs to a train, the Maryland Transit Administration has determined.

MTA police made the judgment that the deaths were accidental after viewing video from the train that hit the pair about 2:55 p.m. Sunday, agency spokeswoman Jawauna Greene said Tuesday. She said family members were briefed by the MTA on that conclusion.

The MTA said earlier Tuesday that it believed Connor Peterson and Kyle Patrick Wankmiller, both 17, had been lying on the tracks while two trains passed over them. But Green said video evidence shows the two were walking north on tracks that are usually used for southbound travel when they were run over.

"It does feel better knowing that nobody hurt them," said Tracy Peterson, Connor's sister. "It doesn't bring them back, but it does bring closure."

At the time, the system was in two-way operations on one track because a train had been damaged earlier that afternoon; it had run into a highway guardrail that apparently had been placed on the northbound tracks. Greene said the boys probably thought the approaching train was using the other track.

"When you hear a train coming from the southern direction you expect it to be on" the northbound track, Greene said, noting that trains travel 40 mph to 45 mph in that area. "It can lull you into a false sense of security."

Still unexplained was how the operator of the train that struck the pair could have missed seeing them. Greene said the investigation is continuing.

Routine toxicology tests had been performed on operators of the 2:55 p.m. and 3:10 p.m. trains late Sunday, after officials determined they might have been involved in an accident, Greene said.

Both operators had been taken out of service, she said.

The teens, who lived in the same home in Lutherville, were discovered severely injured about 3:10 p.m. after the operator and fare inspector aboard another train noticed something on the tracks and the inspector walked back to determine what it was.

Greene said trains were operating in a single-track mode in that section because a northbound train that passed that way about 2:10 p.m. - an hour before the bodies were spotted - struck the guardrail piece.

Greene said that train's operator tried to remove the guardrail but was unsuccessful. At about 2:17, the train was pulled into the Lutherville station, and a maintenance crew and supervisor were summoned.

According to Greene, the light rail system then began operating in both directions on the southbound track.

Greene said it was "extremely unusual" but not unprecedented for the MTA to find guardrail or other obstructions placed on the light rail tracks.

At about 3:10, Greene said, another northbound train was traveling north on the left-hand track when the operator and fare inspector spotted something they could not identify on the track they were passing over south of Lutherville.

She said the fare inspector got off the train at Lutherville and walked back to the site as the train continued its northbound trip. When the fare inspector discovered the two injured teenagers, police and emergency medical personnel were summoned.

Wankmiller was transported to St. Joseph Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. Peterson was taken by medevac to Maryland Shock rauma Center, where he died the next day.

Greene said police have not been able to determine whether there was any connection between the guardrail and the two teens. She said no fingerprint evidence had been found on the guardrail.

After the teens were found, the MTA temporarily shut down the light rail system and began checking all trains that had been in the area for signs of impact, Greene said.

The spokeswoman said that no evidence was found that any train had hit a person who was in an upright position. However, she said, when MTA employees inspected the undersides of light rail trains that had been in the area, they found physical evidence indicating that two trains - the 3:10 and one that came through the area about 2:55 - had passed over the bodies.

An examination of video from the 2:55 train solved what had been a mystery - police were considering such explanations as homicide, suicide and a daredevil stunt gone wrong.

Greene asked anyone with information about the incident to call the MTA Police at 410-454-7720. "We still need a lot of help in ferreting out what happened."

The MTA spokeswoman said she hoped the incident would deliver a lesson.

"We just implore people to be extremely safe when crossing our tracks," she said. "This is not something we take lightly. Trains of any kind can be dangerous."

At Dulaney High School, which both boys had attended, Parent-Teacher-Student Association President Terri Seitz Parrish said the tragedy follows several others this year.

"This is difficult for our kids," she said. Kyle was expected to enter his junior year this fall; Connor withdrew from school in May 2008.

In January, Dulaney senior Conrad "C.J." Utanes Jr. was fatally struck by a car while walking home from school. The same month, Dulaney student Nicholas W. Browning, 17, was sentenced to four life terms for killing his parents and brothers.

Family members disclosed funeral arrangements Tuesday evening. A viewing for Connor is scheduled on Thursday at the Lemmon Funeral Home from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m, with a funeral at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens at 11 a.m. Friday. Kyle's viewing is on Friday at Lemmon from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. His funeral is on Saturday at 10 a.m., also at Dulaney Valley.

Baltimore Sun reporters Arin Gencer and Olivia Bobrowsky contributed to this article.

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