Wednesday, September 19, 1990

Mother of 11 Walking to Church is First Killed by Blue Line

Blue Line Train Kills Woman, 66, Crossing Tracks Accident
Mother of 11 becomes first fatality since new commuter light rail line opened in July

Los Angeles Times
By Bettina Boxall
September 21, 1990

A Watts woman became the first fatality on the new light rail line between Los Angeles and Long Beach when she was struck by a train Wednesday evening while crossing the tracks at an intersection within sight of her house.

Rosa Ceballos, 66, was on her way to church at about 5:30 p.m. when she was hit head-on by a southbound, Blue Line train traveling at full speed through the crossing at Century Boulevard and South Graham Avenue, authorities said.

Witnesses gave conflicting accounts of the accident, some insisting the warning lights and gates were not operating when the train entered the intersection and others saying they were.

"She walked right into the train. The arms were down. The red lights were blinking," said Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sgt. Sharon Madison, who was on the train as part of a routine security patrol.

Madison emphatically dismissed reports that the line's warning signals had not worked as they should.

"That's not true," she said. "I don't know if she didn't hear it. I don't know if she didn't see it or saw it and panicked.

"We were passing Century Boulevard," the sergeant continued. "The train was beginning to brake and we didn't know why. The driver was laying on the horn. We looked out the window to see what the problem was and I saw her (the victim) bouncing along the train."

The train stopped just beyond the intersection and Madison said she ran back to find Ceballos on top of the tracks.

The mother of 11, Ceballos died a short time later at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center, according to a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, which built the 19-mile-long line.

The accident-which disrupted service for about 45 minutes-was the most serious on the line since it opened with much fanfare in July.

"This just absolutely stunned us," said Stephanie Brady, the commission's media relations director. "I don't understand why she didn't heed the warning signs. We're confident we made every possible allowance-noise, lights, horns-to warn of coming trains."

Brady said there have been a few minor brushes between cars and trains since the system got under way. A teen-ager lost several toes while playing a game of "dare" with a train near downtown Los Angeles in late July.

Wednesday's fatality will be investigated by both Los Angeles police and the Southern California Rapid Transit District, which operates the system.

Ceballos, who attended church almost daily, lived with one of her children in the 9900 block of South Graham Avenue just a few feet behind another family house that faces the light rail tracks. As twilight fell Wednesday, family members stood in the dusty front yard, tears wetting their faces.

"A little boy, he told me, your mother is over there," said one of Ceballos' sons, Magdaleno Barrientos. He went to the tracks to find out what happened. "And they (authorities) say, `Stay over there.' "

A granddaughter said that Ceballos had neither hearing nor sight problems.

Several people who said they saw the accident maintained that the warning gates lining both sides of the crossing did not come down until after the train stopped.

"The gates weren't down. The horns weren't blowing at all," said Clara Domingo, who was getting into her car when Ceballos was struck nearby.

But on the other side of the tracks, Manuel Jaramillio, a security guard at an apartment complex, backed up Madison's account.

"The gates were down. The lights were going. The driver was blowing his horn. I was wondering if she was going to take that chance," said Jaramillio, who regularly watches the sleek new cars as they whisk between Los Angeles and Long Beach at 55 m.p.h.

Jaramillio said he often sees pedestrians take risks at the crossing.

"They like to play tag, it seems," he said.

While wooden gates block the path of cars when a train passes through the Century and Graham intersection, there is room for pedestrians to walk by the gates and past warning lights and bells onto the four tracks, which carry both freight trains and the Blue Line cars.