A mysterious object that slammed into a parked Chevrolet Suburban in Palo Alto earlier this week has been identified as part of a train. But the part is from a Union Pacific locomotive, which uses Caltrain's tracks, Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunn said Thursday, Oct. 11.
The object, a 1-foot-long, 20-pound hunk of molded material with two large bolts, ripped into the car sometime between Monday night, Oct. 8, and Tuesday morning, initially confounding Palo Alto police and the vehicle's owner.
Resident Daniel Peters discovered a huge gash in the tailgate of his black SUV when he went to take his children to school Tuesday morning. The heavy object was embedded amid the torn metal and could not be extracted, he said.
Peters said he last saw his intact vehicle in front of his home in the 4200 block of Newberry Court near West Charleston Road on Monday at about 10 p.m. But on Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., he noticed the piece of what initially looked like molded concrete with bolts sticking out of it.
At first, he thought the car had been vandalized, but he had second thoughts when he saw the size of the object and the trajectory of the large slash. It seemed to come from above.
"My sister said, 'No, a part of a plane fell on it,'" he said Tuesday afternoon.
Peters gazed toward the tracks across the street, which were hidden by a row of adjacent houses. He marveled that an object of that size could be hurled with such force that it would fly over homes where people were sleeping, cross Park Boulevard and slice a hole into his car on the side street.
"It must have exploded. It's hard to believe it came this far," he said.
Palo Alto police Sgt. Kara Apple said that traveling at high speed, a shattered object of such size could be flung quite far.
"We were all saying, 'Thank God no one was outside. Thank God a car wasn't driving down the street and was struck,'" she said.
Police did not immediately know what the object could be. But Peters' body-shop repairman had an idea. It looked like part of a train fan housing, and it was marked "UP 9999," Peters said. He said he did not yet know the extent and cost to repair the vehicle, but the body shop said the damage was extensive, Peters added.
Union Pacific spokesman Aaron Hunt initially said Tuesday that there were no reports of a Union Pacific incident in Palo Alto.
But Dunn on Wednesday said Caltrain would work with authorities to identify the object and would inspect its trains. On Thursday morning, she had the answer:
"Caltrain has inspected all of its equipment and none of our equipment is missing any parts. We have also inspected the part and identified it as the cover of (a) cooling fan, which is located on the top of a locomotive. We have also identified the part as coming from a Union Pacific locomotive. We are in the processing of notifying Union Pacific," she said in an email.
Palo Alto police spokesman Lt. Zach Perron on Thursday referred further comment to Union Pacific.
"I received word that the part has been identified as coming from a Union Pacific locomotive that had stopped in San Francisco, according to a colleague of mine with the San Mateo County Transit Police," he wrote in an email.
Hunt confirmed on Friday that the debris is a cooling fan from a Union Pacific freight locomotive that passed through the area as part of a regular route.
"Our claims team is in touch with the owner of the vehicle and is also continuing to work with local agencies to investigate this incident. The cause of the fan coming off the locomotive remains under investigation," he said in an email.