News


Woman dies after train hits car in Menlo Park

 

UPDATE: El Camino Real and Ravenswood Avenue is now open to all traffic, according to Menlo Park Police Department.

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A woman in her 30s died Monday night from injuries sustained when her silver Acura SUV was struck by a southbound train at around 4:45 p.m. at the Ravenwood Avenue crossing in Menlo Park.

The woman, the lone occupant of the vehicle, was driving west and became stuck on the tracks at the Ravenswood crossing when the car was hit, said Harold Schapelhouman, chief of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District.

She was apparently boxed in by traffic as the gates came down. The SUV flew 40 feet from the impact with the baby bullet train, which was traveling at 79 mph, Caltrain officials said.

Witnesses to the accident administered CPR until medics arrived and took her to Stanford Hospital, said Caltrain spokesperson Mark Simon. She was pronounced dead a short time later.

A child safety seat was found in the car but was unoccupied, Chief Schapelhouman said.

All trains were stopped in both directions until about 5:30 p.m. when a single track was opened through the area, Caltrain officials said. Around 6 p.m., the northbound tracks reopened for all trains.

The crossing gate mechanism was destroyed and the train sustained "substantial damage," said Caltrain spokesperson Jayme Ackemann. The train may need repair work before it can be moved out of the crossing, she said.

The tragedy prompted Caltrain to remind motorists to never stop on the tracks.

"Under any circumstances, do not stop on the tracks," Simon said. "Don't start across the tracks until you can get all the way across."

Menlo Park police issued an advisory at 7:24 a.m. Tuesday morning (Feb. 24) that motorists should avoid the area because of continuing work at the tracks. Travel from El Camino Real eastbound on Ravenswood Avenue is closed, as is westbound Ravenswood Avenue at Laurel Street.

Repair work could continue well into the afternoon, police said.

Bay City News Service contributed to this report.

Comments

10 people like this
Posted by No words
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 23, 2015 at 8:04 pm

Eerily similar to this crash at the same crossing:
Web Link

So tragic. My heart goes out to the family.


29 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 23, 2015 at 8:13 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The law is that you may not enter the train crossing UNTIL you have space to clear the crossing on the other side. Similarly it is against the law to stop on the train tracks at any time and for any reason.

"If you need to stop after crossing the tracks, wait until you can completely cross the tracks before proceeding. Make sure your vehicle clears the tracks before you stop.
Never stop on the railroad tracks. Remember that a train cannot stop quickly or swerve out of the way. If you are on the tracks, you risk injury or death."

[Portion removed.]


44 people like this
Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Feb 23, 2015 at 8:16 pm

Alphonso is a registered user.

Communities to the north (Belmont and San Carlos) have a somewhat ugly walls (elevated train berms) running down the middle of their towns, but they do not have accidents like this and they do not have noise and they do not have suicides.


57 people like this
Posted by Tragic
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 23, 2015 at 8:25 pm

What a tragic accident. My heart and prayers go out to the family and loved ones of this woman. We cannot know how her car ended up stuck on the tracks, but we do know a life was lost today. Let us focus only on what we know and what matters.

God bless.


21 people like this
Posted by Familiar
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 23, 2015 at 9:15 pm

[Portion removed.] Those trains come and go in a flash so it's never a good idea to cross if in you might get stuck on the tracks. When the bells begin ringing, there is only some 15-20 seconds before the train arrives. Not everyone is familiar with the speed, but the Paly bikers sure know.


28 people like this
Posted by Bike commuter
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 23, 2015 at 11:09 pm

Many drivers somehow have an assumption that they can run away in time while stopping on the track. On my bike commute last week, I saw a SUV stopping on the track, and the cross watcher shout her off the track. She backed up reluctantly and had part of the car popping beyond the arm when the train arrived in 2 minutes later. When the arm rises she immediately jumped forward. Oh, she's been checking the phone all the time. I made sure I keep 50 ft distance with her SUV. Some individual's risk assessment ability really amazes me.


68 people like this
Posted by Tragic
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 23, 2015 at 11:22 pm

People:

PLEASE stop judging and start feeling. Stop assuming you know what happened and start thinking about the people who just lost a loved one. The cold and analytical judgments chill me to the bone.

THINK for one moment how you would feel if you lost a loved one and then had this online forum full of people assuming they knew what happened and were judging your loved one as though they had been on a game show.

We need to be a better, more caring community!


50 people like this
Posted by kristina
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 24, 2015 at 12:24 am

I witnessed this tragedy today and I can't sleep.

This is a very dangerous intersection. In January 2014, I was crossing at Alma and Ravenswood and was hit by a car. it took a long time to feel comfortable enough to walk that way again. My son was also struck by a car on his bike and the driver didn't know and kept driving, but he was thrown and injured.

I think the pedestrians make this dangerous for the drivers worried about getting stuck, and the drivers are more reckless because too much is going on with the train track stress.

Is it possible to build a pedestrian bridge to replace the crosswalks at Alma? Also we could make them look really cool and space agey since we seem to be the hub of cool tech stuff. I also want to dedicate the bridge to all those who died there. Can we do this?

If the cars didn't have to worry about pedestrians, I think the flow would work better for traffic, and would be better for pedestrians too, getting to walk on the new cool space age bridge dedicated to the people who lost their lives.

RIP nameless mom. I hope you didn't suffer long.


68 people like this
Posted by ndn
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 24, 2015 at 2:05 am

I frequently cross this rail crossing. One very serious problem (independently from this accident) if want to cross in the easterly direction: there is a car in front of you that just cross and wants to turn right, left space for your car to go behind but as it started to turn ( or go ahead) there appears a pedestrian who decides to start to cross and the car has to back down a little bit to let the pedestrian go and suddenly without warning you can't go and you are on the tracks. That is a recipe for disaster. Pedestrians have the right of way if and only if they are already crossing ( or the light is green for them, but there is no light in this case) but not if the car has started to turn or cross. Good luck making pedestrians abide by the law. They think that they have always the right of way and couldn't care less or even notice if they are putting others in danger by stepping out of a sidewalk and into a crossing. As a ( frequent) pedestrian I am of aware this situation but few people are in my experience. Some solution has to be found for this crossing. Itis simply too dangerous.


12 people like this
Posted by Lauren
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 24, 2015 at 7:21 am

[Post removed.]


6 people like this
Posted by Cactus
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 24, 2015 at 7:51 am

Driver Handbook - rail crossing ? - No, did not hear....What is it?


43 people like this
Posted by CLEM CLEMSON
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 24, 2015 at 8:07 am

I was on El Camino at the light when this happened. I knew if was going to be very bad. I consider this tragedy to be a problem with traffic in Palo Alto and Menlo Park area now. Its so congested its horrible. No place to go to get through it. No place to go to get out of harms way. I suspect a multi-million dollar law suit against Cal Trans. The family will get a safety expert and a engineering consultant and they will determine that the Ravenswood crossing is extremely dangerous because traffic will flow until the light changes and then it will jam up and a person driving who had every reasonable belief that they could get through the light get s caught on the tracks and cannot get off. Its the same at the Churchill crossing and it has happened to me several times. There is no fault it in on the part of the driver. It has to do with the flow of traffic and the light signals on El Camino and Alma. A totally unavoidable tragedy created by the overwhelming traffic in Menlo Park whose narrow streets and quick time lights were not designed to deal with the crush of high technology traffic. Very sad especially for her children.


35 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 24, 2015 at 8:22 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

In my opinion the design of the crossing is not the immediate problem. The immediate problem is that drivers do not understand and obey the law which is designed to protect them.

Longer term we need grade separation at any and all railroad crossings on the Peninsula - that will take a long time to get approved and many, many millions to build.

It is sad this woman lost her life.

It is also sad that the train engineer involved with live with the memories of this forever.

And it is sad that the first responders had deal with the carnage.

[Portion removed.]


57 people like this
Posted by Mp resident
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 24, 2015 at 9:32 am

Let's stop blaming drivers for this. I was at the intersection (oak grove side) in Menlo park this morning. I was waiting to turn left from alma onto oak grove (headed west across tracks). The car traffic, pedestrian traffic, bike traffic, and train traffic had me sitting at that intersection for a long time. I could not believe the number of cars I saw get "stuck" on the tracks. Every time, the driver appeared totally surprised that they were stopped where they were. They were usually suddenly stopped due to the car in front of them suddenly stopping for a pedestrian or biker. the car in front of them had cleared the tracks, and appeared to be headed straight east on oak grove. While these drivers were "wrong" by not first making sure they could clear the tracks before starting across, the number of "wrong" drivers out there is enough so as to make this a real hazard.
I continued west across el Camino, iwhere I had to wait as a human cross guard held up,his stop sign so school kids could cross the street and head into their school.
How about that as an immediate solution. Let's get Caltrans out there directing traffic at busy train crossings during rush hours. We need someone actually directing traffic for all the cars, pedestrians, and bikers, for all of our safety.


17 people like this
Posted by Memories
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 24, 2015 at 9:43 am

[Portion removed.]

MP Resident - I'm surprised that anyone still tries to make that left turn from Alma that you describe. I go out of my way to avoid it, as it's frustrating and dangerous. Thank you for your astute observations.


30 people like this
Posted by emily
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 24, 2015 at 9:54 am

This intersection is a disaster and something should really be done about it. As a pedestrian, it's very alarming to try to cross Ravenswood - many drivers aren't expecting a crosswalk there and often don't stop. Frankly, I hate walking my baby across that street. As a driver, there are too many obstacles bunched too closely together that create risky situations - the train tracks, numerous pedestrian crosswalks (without lights to accompany them), the light at El Camino. I haven't (because I'm aware of how it happens) gotten stuck on the tracks, but I can see when traffic is flowing smoothly, a car in front of you slows to turn right onto Alma, a pedestrian blocks them, and suddenly you're stuck on the tracks (which are quite wide). The trains should be moved below grade and a light should be put in at Alma so pedestrians don't need to play chicken with cars. It blows my mind that the train is still at grade at this intersection.


24 people like this
Posted by Bike Commuter
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 24, 2015 at 10:30 am

As a bike commuter who used to live in Menlo Park and used the train station daily, I agree the cross is a mess (I used it twice a day, on a bike or in a car) -- it is a dangerous mix of jaywalkers, random cyclists, and impatient car commuters. After a while I figure out a rule driving there: you need to be able to withstand the pressure from the car behind you. If you don't see a wide open space that you can fit your car in with 100% confidence, don't cross the track. If the guy behind you honk, ignore him. It is your life, not his. Also, the crosses in Burlingame (Broadway), Mountain View (Castro), and Redwood City (Whipple) all have the same problem.


31 people like this
Posted by Grade separation, grade separation, grade separation....
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 24, 2015 at 11:03 am

At-grade tracks across high volume streets are a BAD idea. How many people have to die before Caltrain takes responsible action? Aside from enormous traffic delays for all other modes of transportation, Caltrain at-grade crossings are the sites of terrible, fatal collisions all of the time.

It wasn't that long ago that a woman's car was struck at the Charleston intersection where many suicides have also occurred.

High Speed Rail and electrification (whichever these engineers decide to do in their behind-the-scenes meetings of consultant boondoggle networks) MUST provide the mitigation of grade separation at crossings. The severe delays caused by train preemption on cross streets at rail crossings creates an environment that invites unsafe behavior. It is untenable, and it will only get worse with more, faster trains.

Bite the bullet. Solve this expensive problem. It's the only way we can really increase train service to levels that truly serve the Peninsula communities. If Caltrain fails to provide the vision and leadership to get this done, rail will not achieve the service levels we all need for the long term. Bandaid "safety improvements" that are currently on the table will not get us where we need to be.


42 people like this
Posted by Atherton Mom
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 24, 2015 at 11:11 am

This is a tragic.

Yes, most of us know that we are not supposed to stop on the tracks but sometimes mistakes are made and this happens. Once stuck on the tracks, at the Ravenswood crossing in particular when the the train is traveling south, if the driver is not familiar with the fact that not all trains stop at the Menlo Park station, one could make the assumption that the train will stop at the Station before reaching the intersection and not get out of the car.

It is hard to believe that we still have express trains running through intersections at grade in Menlo Park.


8 people like this
Posted by Greg C
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 24, 2015 at 11:25 am

My heart goes out to the family of this unfortunate woman.

I wonder if it would help, when reporting on fatalities like this, to include additional recommendations beyond "Don't start across the tracks until you can get all the way across."

My own list goes something like this. If, despite intending to not stop on the tracks unless I know I can get all the way across them, if I do end up stopped on the tracks and see a train is coming,

1) median permitting, do a u-turn and drive off the tracks to safety in the direction I came from
2) if only blocked to the rear by the crossing gate, back up through it. If cars are back there too, push them back if they don't realize what's going on, and back up on their own.
3) drive onto the tracks that don't have a train coming at the moment. Then consider the other remedies ASAP
4) if none of these options is available, get out of the car, taking all my other passengers with me, and run to safety

Other ideas?


7 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 24, 2015 at 11:26 am

That intersection is particularly hazardous.


9 people like this
Posted by Overwhelmed by Traffic
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 24, 2015 at 11:39 am

Grade separation and sound walls, PULLLLLEEEEEEZE!!!!!


2 people like this
Posted by Concerned citizen
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 24, 2015 at 11:47 am

Too many lives loss in crossing whether intentional or unintentional. Crossing in busy area should be redesigned/reengineered.
For example : Warning system if anything touching the track > xxminutes will be engaged and transmitted to the train operator.
Crossing some of the section, I can see how easy driver can get trapped on track.


7 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 24, 2015 at 12:02 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Note this posting:
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 27, 2015 at 2:24 pm
Peter Carpenter is a registered user.
What not see this as an opportunity rather than a problem?

One thought is the put the trains underground and the surface rights above it for housing in the stretches between stations and to use the surface above the stations for transit connections and parking. The surface area of the current right of way is very valuable land - particularly in Atherton - and could generate a lot of the needed capital.

Why not take this as an opportunity to design a multi-dimensional, multi-purpose system that uses the existing right-of-way that includes CalTrain, HSR, utility conduits for telephone and internet cables, surface housing with high density housing around each station, etc.

I would add a pedestrian path and a separate bicycle path on the surface along the entire right of way. And I would include 3 or 4 12" conduits for the technology of the future.

We should think of this right of way as an integrated multi-modal communications spine for the peninsula.

A piecemeal approach will be very expensive.

Do it once and do it right.

Let's take the big view and come up with a win-win solution.

First, let's do everything we can to educate people on the fundamental rules of train crossings and also start rigorously enforcing compliance with those rules.

Second, every citizen who wants to prevent future tragedies like this should urge their respective city/town councils and their elected County and State leaders to endorse AND FUND an integrated multi-modal communications spine for the peninsula.


11 people like this
Posted by Carol Bell
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 24, 2015 at 12:03 pm

This should not happen. I know this crossing very well. This just should not happen ever again. My heart goes out to the family. Step up Menlo Park and CalTrain.


12 people like this
Posted by palo altan
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 24, 2015 at 12:14 pm

Out of all of the ground level intersections I am aware of, that one scares me the most. The combination of proximity to El Camino, Menlo Park driving culture and presence of bikers pedestrians is overwhelming. Overwhelmed drivers are dangerous.


Like this comment
Posted by stretch
a resident of another community
on Feb 24, 2015 at 12:19 pm

[Post removed.]


7 people like this
Posted by Old but wise
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 24, 2015 at 12:20 pm

How many deaths are we going to be OK with until we do underpasses on these crossings... Yes it costs a lot but what are peoples lives worth? There are always people who occasionally do the "wrong" thing and pay dearly for it, so lets do the safe thing and help them by giving them a safe alternative. We have money for fancy sculptures, fancy sidewalks, I would rather pay a parcel tax for underpasses than schools. Also with the new bullet train programs why don't we demand underpasses to make those safe?


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 24, 2015 at 12:22 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

And just now a pedestrian has been hit by a northbound train at the Palo Alto station.
Details not yet known.


12 people like this
Posted by mark tuschman
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 24, 2015 at 12:26 pm

This is a terribly dangerous rail crossing. I was going eastbound several weeks ago and someone unexpectedly stopped to make a left hand turn at 4:45 pm which was illegal. The back end of my van was not on the tracks but too close for comfort and I could not even change lanes as the traffic was so heavy. There should never be a left hand turn allowed at that intersection going eastwards. It is far too dangerous and obviously people do not heed the signs about no left turns between 4-6pm. I also agree that pedestrian crossings make for more unpredictability. It is must a matter of time until another tragic accident happens at this railroad crossing- something needs to be done. We all have experienced very heavy traffic in our communities and it is only going to get worse.


1 person likes this
Posted by marie
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 24, 2015 at 12:40 pm

[Post removed.]


8 people like this
Posted by Different Idea
a resident of Ventura
on Feb 24, 2015 at 12:47 pm

Perhaps we can add a sensor to all rail crossings that detects a car that is stuck and then inform the incoming train early enough so that it can stop or slow down? I know it's not easy to stop a train full of momentum, but presumably early detection would make it possible?

Imagine if each train engineer had a cell phone or tablet app that blared an alarm whenever the train was within a mile of a car that was stuck on the tracks for more than a few seconds? I don't imagine any technology hurdles that would prevent this from being possible. Taking the app a step further, if you could click on any train crossing and see a real-time video feed of the intersection, it would be possible to confirm a real danger and therefore give the engineer a compelling reason to stop the train.


4 people like this
Posted by Emily
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 24, 2015 at 1:04 pm

Different Idea- sensor is good. What about a sensor that doesn't let you on the track until it sees at least a car length on the other side. Traffic flow might need reworking but maybe it could work the same way metering lights do. People will still be people but a photo shot of someone possibly ignoring the sensor could result in a ticket.


9 people like this
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 24, 2015 at 1:15 pm

I agree that this is a poorly designed intersection, and not properly signalized for maximum safety. Suggestions that “people need to follow the law” don't really help much when people keep getting killed on these crossings.

What kinds of additional signals/technology could this (and other) intersections use? The simplest would be to increase the time that the red flashing lights are activated. Currently, these lights start flashing about 20 seconds (perhaps 30) before the train arrives at the intersection. Increasing this time by another 30 seconds would give motorists/pedestrians another 30 seconds to execute an exit from the tracks if they happen to be on them.

Some sort of vehicle detection system could be added to the crossing that would flash every time a vehicle is stopped on the tracks—whether or not a train is approaching. People not familiar with the intersection would be provided a warning about their being on the tracks. A audio alert would add to the “move your car” warning.

The vehicle detection system should be connected to the Menlo Park Police/911 emergency call center. This would all the dispatcher to alert an on-the-street police officer that a car is stuck on the tracks.

And by all means, this intersection should be under 24-hour surveillance cameras. These recordings need to be conveyed into the public domain so that we all can see what kinds of problems motorists encounter, or cause, at these crossings.

The suggestion of converting this intersection to an underpass is certainly the only really good solution, but we need to start with a $75M estimated price tag, and then expect the costs to increase as better engineering/design data becomes available.

It’s really frustrating to have this behemoth running through our cities, and not really have any meaningful input into how the system is managed, or forcing the management to spend money increasing the system’s unsafe crossings. Sadly, Caltrain does not keep a list of accidents on its web-site so that people can understand the issues of safety that need to be addressed.


Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 24, 2015 at 1:25 pm

Just tuned in to CNN, apparently there was a massive intercity train derailment in Oxnard (Southern CA) owing to a collision with a vehicle, from what I could quickly gather. Something about a "fly-over" (haven't heard that term here, I assume that means a bridge OVER the tracks?) being too costly for the local municipality to pay for; and that the intersection is "the most dangerous" in the region. Perhaps this story will relate to what is happening on CalTrain's route up in our area...


2 people like this
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 24, 2015 at 1:26 pm

BTW--There were two fatalities on the Caltrain tracks yesterday. A man was killed in SF:

Web Link

So, with the injury to a woman this morning in Palo Alto, there were three incidents in two days. Since we haven't had any rain recently, the weather can't be a factor.

Will be interesting to see if anyone associated with Caltrain will be publicly addressing these incidents.


7 people like this
Posted by Roger Rabbit
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 24, 2015 at 1:37 pm

When the crossing barriers come down, you think you have to stop. But then the light simultaneously turns green, making you think you should go.

I understand why they did it this way, to allow cars already in the crossing to get out.

But it is incredibly confusing, especially the first time you see it -- and that just could be the last!


6 people like this
Posted by A mom who crosses track
a resident of Ventura
on Feb 24, 2015 at 1:53 pm

I cross the tracks all the time at Alm win PA with kids in the car... thank god this lady had no passengers. How on earth does one get kids out when your stuck on the tracks? It's impossible. If you have two kids in child seats, you'll all end up dead. Having said that, the railroad crossings are RIDICULOUS. The stop light should be BEFORE the tracks not after. The stop lights sensor should be moved as well. The sooner the cities change this the better, IMO.


5 people like this
Posted by A mom who crosses track
a resident of Ventura
on Feb 24, 2015 at 1:53 pm

I cross the tracks all the time at Alm win PA with kids in the car... thank god this lady had no passengers. How on earth does one get kids out when your stuck on the tracks? It's impossible. If you have two kids in child seats, you'll all end up dead. Having said that, the railroad crossings are RIDICULOUS. The stop light should be BEFORE the tracks not after. The stop lights sensor should be moved as well. The sooner the cities change this the better, IMO.


18 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 24, 2015 at 2:03 pm

This is an EXTREMELY dangerous crossing during heavy traffic. It ought to be a casebook study of how NOT to lay out a railroad crossing.

The railroad signals are fine. The fault is squarely with the Menlo Park traffic engineering department (we got one, don't we?). Why they tolerate this proven deadly uncoordinated mishmash of pedestrian, rail, and auto traffic at the Alma/Ravenswood intersection defies any logic.

Westbound cars crowd into the crossing as best they can from three directions, totally uncoordinated by a traffic signal. Then they are periodically piled up by the Ravenswood/El Camino signal, which ought to be, but is not, coordinated with the railroad crossing signals to prevent that fatal backup.

What should be done? Underground that crossing pronto!

Meantime, because pronto means a decade or two around here, completely block Alma starting today. Let pedestrians cross Ravenswood only when the crossing gates are down.

At a minimum, put up a billboard reading: DANGEROUS CROSSING. ENTER AT GRAVE RISK TO YOUR LIFE. Put a big black skull and crossbones on it to reinforce the point.


5 people like this
Posted by Familiar
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 24, 2015 at 2:10 pm

@Wayne Martin: How can a nearby cop get to the tracks in time to rescue a person?

Agree that a little more time allowed before the train arrives would be helpful. I can imagine that sometimes people are panicked and immobilized. However, if it's too long, there'll be drivers who know it's longer and will try to drive around the barriers. Plus, lengthening the wait affects traffic congestion.

@Roger Rabbit: Who tries to cross the tracks if light is green but the barrier is down?

The main issues here are either deliberate or accidental due to impatience. It's very tragic, but people are forgetting that many commuters are helped each day by riding the train and how it alleviates auto congestion.


5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 24, 2015 at 2:33 pm

There was a similar incident yesterday in Morgan Hill with a train and a truck, the driver got out and left the truck. There was a serious one today in Oxnard with a truck and a train, the train was partly derailed. Then there was this one yesterday too.

How about saying that the design of at grade crossings is at fault. How about getting rid of traffic lights so close to tracks or putting them both sides of the tracks. How about thinking that for all of us who live close enough to use these crossings on a regular basis, there are times when visitors to the area are crossing them and this might be the first time they have had to deal with them. There was a situation a couple of years ago on Charleston where a woman driver was killed but her husband escaped, and they were visitors to the area in a rental car.

How about making these crossings safer, with better respect to drivers who are not familiar with the area.



Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 24, 2015 at 2:50 pm

> How can a nearby cop get to the tracks in time to rescue a person?

Trains come along about every 30 minutes, don't they? And people are crossing the tracks continuously during that period time, right? When cars become stuck on the tracks, it's a random event--meaning that the car could have from 29 minutes to 0 minutes before the next train comes along.

While it's true that a police officer is not going to be able to help if the car becomes stuck with only a minute or two before the train arrives, in those cases where there are more than 2-3 minutes before the next train, it's reasonable to expect a police officer in the downtown MP area can get to that intersection/crossing long before the next train arrives.

Hopefully this answers your question, but if not--please explain your confusion and I will try again.



1 person likes this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 24, 2015 at 2:56 pm

Trains come far more often than every 30 minutes. Just looking at the schedule, I count 7 trains stopping at the Palo Alto station between 4 and 5pm on weekdays. Of course, that does not include trains that are not stopping at the station.


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 24, 2015 at 2:56 pm

92 trains daily. Concentrations at rush hours.


3 people like this
Posted by Familiar
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 24, 2015 at 3:01 pm

Yes, I have been in that general Paly/Churchill area before when two trains, different directions, have passed the crossing.

@Wayne: The issue is not a car stalling on the tracks, it's usually an issue of a car being on the tracks as the gates fall down and bells are ringing so the driver is stuck behind another car and cannot drive forward.


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 24, 2015 at 3:01 pm

> Trains come far more often than every 30 minutes.

That's probably true on weekdays, and during peak hours, but what about nights, weekends, and holidays? Do cars only stall on the tracks during the heaviest hours? Certainly this intersection "locks up" during peak hours, but vehicles can stall on the tracks at any time of day.

And the point here is that cars stalling on the tracks is a random event, and that for those situations where there is five minutes or so before the next train arrives there would likely be time for a police officer, or the Fire Department/Emergency Rescue team to arrive on the scene.


Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 24, 2015 at 3:53 pm

> The issue is not a car stalling on the tracks, it's usually an issue of
> a car being on the tracks as the gates fall down and bells are ringing
> so the driver is stuck behind another car and cannot drive forward.

Does it really matter? The points that I brought up involved use of technology to detect and hopefully direct police/fire/emergency resources to the scene so that the driver (at least) can get out of the car. The reasons for the car's becoming stuck are not relevant to the solutions of making the crossing safer.

Why is that so hard to understand?

I also wanted to point out that there are solutions to these problems that involve on-train vehicle detection systems using radar. For some reason, these systems have never been refined so that they are commercially available. Sadly, Caltrain has not seen fit to acquire/test at least one of these systems so that it could help advance the state of the art.

The suggestion for surveillance cameras that would feed into the MP/911 center also could be extended so that Caltrain/Dispatch could have these feeds. Presumably with five to seven minutes warning of a car on the next crossing, a train could be brought to a stop.

And then there is the Palo Alto solution, of hiring someone to stand at the intersection/crossing, with a radio, who would be able to alert 911 that a car was stuck on the crossing. Perhaps this person could be equipped/trained to help people out of their cars. Obviously, this could be life-threatening, but firemen/police/military risk their lives from time-to-time, so it's not beyond reason to hire someone who will not just stand on the sidelines and watch, but actively help people stuck on the tracks.


5 people like this
Posted by coooper
a resident of another community
on Feb 24, 2015 at 3:59 pm

Of all the suggestions here, posting an actual human traffic guard strikes me as the most practical, affordable, and quick solution. The salary would be a miniscule price of a separated grade crossing. A guard could assist drivers stuck on tracks (or radio CalTrain), help pedestrians, and even improve traffic flow. Unfortunately, cities seem loathe to adopt human "technology".


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 24, 2015 at 4:00 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I predict that a careful analysis of the data on CalTrain-automobile strikes would show that the cars that were hit were not "stalled" but had been on the tracks less than a minute. A car on the tracks only becomes a "problem" after the gates come down because then it is trapped. The gates only come down about 30 seconds before the train arrives. That 30 seconds is much too short a time for any external response.


9 people like this
Posted by Track Guard ineffective
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 24, 2015 at 4:44 pm

@coooper

There was recently a Palo Alto track suicide where the track guard did not see the person so the effectiveness is questionable. Technology trumps human error.

Everyone is so distracted these days that I often miss green lights because I'm waiting for each driver to look up from their smartphones to notice the light is already green.


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 24, 2015 at 4:59 pm

---
> I predict that a careful analysis of the data on CalTrain-automobile
> strikes would show that the cars that were hit were not "stalled"
> but had been on the tracks less than a minute.

And I predict that we will never see such an analysis, because:

1) No one will do the work

2) The data needed is not likely to be found in one location. Local Public Safety Departments are called to the accident scenes, and do all of the work cleaning up the mess, but it’s the San Mateo Sheriff’s office in charge of the investigation that needed to understand what happened. Perhaps the time-on-the-tracks number is available in some of these situations/reports, but without easy access to these accident reports, we (the public) don’t really know what the investigators look for, and document.

3) We have seen cases here in Palo Alto where people have been traveling on Alma, turned onto East Meadow/Charleston heading west, and for some unknown reason, made a sharp turn onto the tracks and became “stuck”. In those cases, people with cell phones were able to call 911, and the police/fire people were able to contact Caltrain, remove the cars, and get the motorists back on the road. While we were lucky in those cases, the cars would have been on the tracks more than a minute by the time the train approached, otherwise.

There aren’t that many train/vehicle accidents every year on the Caltrain line. For that reason, it seems that installing surveillance cameras would be a not-very-expensive solution to providing better information about accidents, and also to help planners see how many people block the tracks at nearby intersections (like Alma/Charleston/Meadow/Churchill).


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 24, 2015 at 5:08 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Wayne - I have, because of my Fire Board role, read almost every such accident report over the last decade.

However, I have not compiled these reports or done a statistical analysis. I cannot recall a single case where the engine stalled. In every case that I can recall there was an operating automobile that was blocked from going backward by the gate and from going forward by other vehicles.

People frequently use the word "stalled" to refer to being held up by traffic rather than to describe mechanical failure.


2 people like this
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 24, 2015 at 5:29 pm

> I have, because of my Fire Board role, read almost every such accident
> report over the last decade.

It's a shame that these reports have not been made public, via your web-site, the SMC Sheriff's web-site, and/or Caltrain's web-site.

Words mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Recently on another thread, it became clear to me that people posting (including myself) did not have a generally accepted definition of "office". As I mentioned in one of my responses--the discussion was not about how cars become immobile on the tracks, but what can be done about it beforehand--it terms of systems design, and provisioned response.


7 people like this
Posted by LAHs
a resident of Los Altos
on Feb 24, 2015 at 5:36 pm

The major thing is to never, never, never, NEVER enter the area crossed by the train tracks unless you have room to clear this area on the other side. Do not blindly follow the guy in front even if it "seems right". Stand your ground and remain stationary until you have your space on the far side - even if the guy behind you beeps.
If your car stalls and you REALLY cannot start it, get out of the car and RUN clear. If it will start just ram the car behind or in front, don't be shy, just push them out of the way, they will soon get the message and cooperate.

[Portion removed.]


3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 24, 2015 at 5:52 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"It's a shame that these reports have not been made public, via your web-site, the SMC Sheriff's web-site, and/or Caltrain's web-site."

These reports have all been made public - I just don't know if anyone has established a central registry. Most of these incidents occurred outside the MPFPD jurisdictional boundaries.


12 people like this
Posted by Root cause
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 24, 2015 at 6:26 pm

Maybe a little less over-development would lead to less traffic and nervous driving. The root cause is not the train, it's the overpopulation, over-development, over-traffic.


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 24, 2015 at 6:54 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

A quick Google search shows how common it is on the Peninsula for a car to be stalled on the tracks. I quit counting after 8 incidents. It's too many URLs to post here. The mechanical reasons for these stalls, if any, aren't given. Luckily, most don't result in serious injury or fatality.




3 people like this
Posted by Melvin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 24, 2015 at 7:18 pm

This really is a tragic event, condolences to the family and friends of the woman who died.

Unfortunately, I think these tragedies will increase if the electrification of Caltrain proceeds as planned. Remember, the goal of electrification is to get more trains moving along the tracks every day, and have them move faster. This means many more opportunities for exactly this kind of accident in the future, compared to today. I maintain that the only truly effective, and permanent solution is a fully grade separated rail corridor. Yes, it is very expensive, but as rail traffic increases, it will eventually be the only solution. It would make most sense to add grade separations in conjunction with electrification.

The only thing Caltrain wants anyone to hear with respect to electrification is that electric trains are 'green'. Caltrain has firmly rejected making grade separations a part of the electrification project, they are beyond the scope of the project according to Caltrain. Money is the key to the solution too. I would think that enough state and federal electoral districts are affected, combined with the many hundreds of millions, possibly billions, of dollars involved to get the active attention of politicians at all levels of govt.


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Posted by Midtown Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 24, 2015 at 9:25 pm

Let's demand for the implementation of the Positive Train Control- There is a 2015 deadline to get this in place and we are no where close to it- We live in Silicon Valley with every second person carrying a freakin' smart phone, the least we can do is get the right technology in place so that we aren't jeopardizing our lives each time we drive across the train tracks. I know drivers need to be careful but we can also add safety features, accidents happen, we don't need these death traps.
Web Link


3 people like this
Posted by Patricia Kiser-Cohen
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 24, 2015 at 9:44 pm

I completely agree with above comments that something needs to change at this intersection . If and when there is a sudden stop at this intersection it is set up as such there is not enough time to predict a sudden stop. ( I would question the physics between the change of lights of the traffic lights of the intersection and the train signals, barriers dropping etc).
Furthermore, the pedestrian crosswalk needs to be way more regulated (walking with an orange flag across the street is a start but it is not enough) . There is simply not enough time/space between when the train comes and when somebody crosses the street to not create a unpredictable instant backup as what appeared to cause this tragic accident. I am not stating that as drivers we do not need to be aware of signals however, I truly believe in this case the driver was in a predicament that could not have been avoided in the moment but might be avoided in the future. I believe this site will become more of a problem in the future as our traffic continues to increase in volume.
This is certainly a space that was designed before we had as much traffic (volume) as we now have in Menlo Park. As a property owner and taxpayer I believe it is time for this space to be redesigned to avoid this type of tragedy in the future. After crossing this intersection thousands of times in the past 15 years as a mother (on foot, bicycle and in a motor vehicle) I can see the dangers of not making a change. How many lives need to be lost before a change happens? [Portion removed.] My heart goes out to the family members of this tragic event.


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Posted by Sarah
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 24, 2015 at 9:53 pm

Such a tragic accident .

I cross there daily during traffic hours and yes it's frustrating but this could've been avoided if she would've waited till she had more room to cross.
Everyone seem to be "rushing" to get across and avoid another red light . I think everyone needs to slow down and be safe.

[Portion removed.]


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Posted by CIA
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 24, 2015 at 9:56 pm

[Post removed.]


6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 24, 2015 at 10:01 pm

CNN was reporting that a train hits a vehicle or a pedestrian every 3 hours in the US. That is a terrible statistic.

We have far too many at grade crossings in urban and suburban areas. We have far too many at grade crossings in busy commute zones. We have far too many at grade crossings where cars are negotiating other driving hurdles, pedestrians, bikes, traffic lights, left turns, pedestrian crossings, school zones, and so on.

In this country, we have a 3rd world rail system mixing with vehicles and other road users. We have to start spending money on safety systems and start spending less money on politics, space activity, celebrity nonsense and other frivolous expenditures.

If the President can fly an expensive plane across the country to speak at a cyber safety conference and then a $X0,000 plate fundraiser, we can also afford to spend some money on making our infrastructure that everyday people use every day, safer.


3 people like this
Posted by john
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 24, 2015 at 11:55 pm

i am very sad for the lady in the car. but i blame all the people that live in this area for the this mess with the rail road you have had 50 or 60 years to fixe it for a lot less than it will cost you to day. so stop blaiming the rail road for your own skew up an just fix the dam thing.or block it off.


2 people like this
Posted by Sea Seelam REDDY
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 25, 2015 at 5:17 am

Very tragic indeed.

I blame the train system. We need a sensor system that enables the train to plan to slow down when there is 'obstacle'.

We can engineer this. No excuse.

My prayers to the family.

respectfully


3 people like this
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 25, 2015 at 9:54 am

There is only one way to fix this. It is called GRADE SEPARATION!


5 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 25, 2015 at 10:19 am

NIMBYs have been fighting against grade separations for years. Because of all the stream crossings, etc. the only practical way to build grade separations at all intersections is to elevate the train tracks all the way through town. The last time this was proposed, NIMBYs launched expensive lawsuits until Caltrain backed down. Will NIMBYs finally agree to grade separations this time?


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 25, 2015 at 11:11 am

University, Embarcadero, and Oregon look more practical to me than elevating the tracks.


2 people like this
Posted by MotoEV
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 25, 2015 at 11:34 am

Why is this so difficult to sort out. There are clear short-term and long-term solutions to adopt.

Short-term 1) Make the intersection a NO-TURN intersection for vehicles 2) Initiate camera monitoring and post signs of $500 and up fines and points for landing your vehicle (car or bike) on the tracks

Those two steps alone will bring down driver-related causes

3) Pedestrian traffic management (look it up). It is used all over the UK on busy roads with heavy people / vehicle traffic.


Long Term - There is no point in talking about grade modifications unless the public is willing to pay for it. Government = Taxpayers. Talk is cheap.


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Posted by Short & LT solutions?
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 25, 2015 at 11:38 am

So sorry for the loss of this woman and to her family and friends.

It is a tragedy and I hope these people wanting solutions don't aggravate the pain you already feel. I think people want to prevent this from happening again and hopefully change will honor her life.

Some ideas that I heard that I like is:
- Why not reiterate education about train track crossing protocol (immediate) including scenarios that include being stuck/stalls/ and other common mistakes. It'd be great if it was an expert speaking to this now while it's on our minds.

- What if the stoplight is BEFORE the tracks and timing of oncoming train and lights are synced to allow buffer time to choose to stop or go without risking injury.

- What if GPS devices sensed REAL TIME approach of a train and every phone alerted with doppler effect audio to inform the driver of oncoming threat.

There probably are short term and long term solutions and again, it's sad that the efforts will be informed by the loss of a loved person(s). I hope these talks will ease your pain knowing it'll help others.


14 people like this
Posted by Stats
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 25, 2015 at 11:39 am

Grade separation? Is that elevating the tracks onto a bridge so the train stations have to be elevated too? And that would cost something like a billion dollars so we can save the few who ignore the DMV driving laws because they are in too much of a hurry?

In the U.S. in 2013, there were 251 train fatalities, with a high of 728 in 1981.

Drunk drivers kill 10,000 people per year; innocent people who are not doing anything wrong are killed by drunk drivers.

The flu kills anywhere from 3,000 to 49,000 per year and many don't get their flu shots (yes, flu shot isn't perfect each year but it is worthwhile despite).

And 2+2 is what?


4 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 25, 2015 at 1:09 pm

Elevating the train tracks to create grade separations is not just about safety. Grade separations also improve traffic flow, which becoming a big problem at railroad crossings in Palo Alto and Menlo Park. Trains don't have to blow their horns at crossings either, which many residents complain about. I don't know what the cost is, but San Mateo County is building these kinds of grade separations right now (actually several are already complete).


2 people like this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 25, 2015 at 1:10 pm

@stats - grade separation clearly isn't cost effective solely as a safety measure, but if you consider the increase in the number of trains, the effects on traffic, and the noise, then it is worth talking about.


5 people like this
Posted by Lauren
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 25, 2015 at 3:58 pm

[Post removed.]


13 people like this
Posted by Willow in the Willows
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 25, 2015 at 4:22 pm

This situation isn't as black and white as some people here make it sound. Not everyone is a big dummy who can't figure out not to stop on the tracks. As another driver here experienced, I have also been at this crossing in the right-hand lane, giving myself plenty of clearance to cross the tracks and just as I start to proceed to cross the tracks headed toward El Camino, a driver from the left-hand lane realizes s/he needs to get over and cuts me off, taking that space I've left open for myself, leaving me stuck on the tracks. There is a lot going on at this crossing as others have pointed out. It needs to be examined. It's another accident waiting to happen. As for all of the assumptions as to what this woman was/wasn't doing and blaming her, how very sad. Typical of how mercenary this area is anymore. I hope some of you are shown more compassion should you ever be found to have made a mistake with dire consequences.


1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 25, 2015 at 4:24 pm

Trying to think how to make these crossings safer.

Could some type of system similar to the metering lights on freeway on ramps be a safer system than what we have. If there was a sensor of some type that tells the light that there is enough space for a car to cross, it would be green, but if there was not enough space for a car between the waiting traffic then the light would be red.

It would probably slow the crossings down, but it might be worth some innovative high tech gadgetry.


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Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Feb 25, 2015 at 5:11 pm

[Post removed.]


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Posted by southbayresident
a resident of another community
on Feb 25, 2015 at 10:40 pm

There could also be a warning system using the same technology as those speed detectors telling you to slow down except at the grade crossings it would work in the opposite manner. It would say you are driving too slow or should not be stopped on the crossing. Illuminated signs would tell the driver to verify clear space ahead before crossing the tracks with a simple easy to read info-graphic. It would be more like a warning to alert you of a dangerous situation you need to avoid whenever you have the option of avoiding it.

I like the prior suggestion that there could be sensors telling you when there is a clear space on the other side but how is it to know how much space you require? What works for a compact car may not work for a pickup truck. It would need to err on the conservative side and be as simple to read as a metering light. I would suspect lots of liability issues if not working as expected or the driver misinterprets the warning signs and gets hit by the train. Everyone would need to understand it as a warning system to assist the driver that can't necessarily guarantee their safety. I think think things like this should be explored as a sort of stopgap measure short of actual Grade Separation.

Grade Separation remains the only true 'solution'. It's been popular for people in Palo Alto and Menlo Park to belittle High Speed Rail as a "Boondoggle" but they shouldn't forget the original HSR project they opposed was in other words a "Grade Separation project". Sure, some means were better than others for achieving it but it was a process requiring all parties to come to the table to negotiate a workable compromise balancing costs and aesthetics.

We all know Palo Alto and Menlo Park (not to forget Atherton) refused to do that and took the infamous "tunnel or nothing" approach. Add to this the "Boondoggle" moniker by project opponents which just dumbed down the discussion, discredited the process and confused people with a lot of misleading information. Remember, Caltrain and HSR both have identical needs for grade separation. Yes, it would be expensive in total but on an individual basis we would barely notice the difference in our taxes. That's the beauty of big government. Collectively our state government has the power to accomplish so many things our local municipalities and private industry cannot.


2 people like this
Posted by PolicySage
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 26, 2015 at 11:34 am

I despaired of the human condition when I read the comments in the (thankfully, now closed!) story identifying the woman from EPA who was killed. Congratulations to the PA online team that shut off the faucet!


2 people like this
Posted by Menlo Park Resident
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 26, 2015 at 4:21 pm

I'm not expert, but wouldn't a simple, inexpensive solution; putting a stop light at that intersection solve a lot of problems. It would get rid of the pedestrian has the right of way lights, that make cars stop unexpectedly, and if the red light coincides with train alerts, cars wouldn't be as willing to run a stop light, then they would a warning light from a train.


4 people like this
Posted by litebug
a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2015 at 6:10 pm

As a former resident of Palo Alto from 1970-2008 and I worked in Menlo Park from 1972-1999 so I can tell you that these intersections have always been treacherous and many accidents occurred at them. But has anything been done in all this time despite the volume of traffic increasing by a huge amount? No. Crossings should be constructed to keep apart pedestrians, bicyclists and automobiles but they cost a lot more to build that way and that's why there aren't many. In such a wealthy area, with many visitors and supposedly a lot of pride in high tech solutions, it's a bit hard to understand other than in terms of just plain stinginess when it comes to public projects. I never ever entered the track area until there was enough room for my entire car on the other side and no amount of honking or arm waving from people behind me would make me budge. I can stand a lot more peer pressure than that, especially when it comes to endangering myself and any passengers I might have. I never realized just how terribly RUDE and ENTITLED in attitude people in that area are until I moved to a place where people are NOT like that. They stop for pedestrians, they let other drivers into traffic, they don't block intersections when traffic is heavy, they hold doors open for you, they take turns, etc. As a result life is so much less stressful and one has a much better feeling about their fellow citizens when the atmosphere isn't so terribly cut throat and competitive. It's also pretty amazing how things get done here: quickly, competently, with far less hassle. The subject comes up, decisions are made, next thing you know the thing has been accomplished! That happened when a dedicated Head Start facility was built to serve the whole county, when a small transit center was needed for increased bus traffic. They were done and up and running incredibly fast. This town got 2nd place in Parade magazine for its downtown and it keeps improving that all the time to attract more wine and food tourists. Community involvement is very high. So the traffic issue down there is but one reflection of the "culture" that has developed there and it hasn't been a pretty sight and it certainly made what had been a great place to live into one that was no longer that way. Good luck.


Like this comment
Posted by Esmi Johnson
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 26, 2015 at 12:49 am

[Post removed.]


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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