Wednesday, May 16, 2012

'Distracted walking' suspected in death of Utah woman killed by train

Salt Lake City, Utah is far afield from Fort Lee, New Jersey, but an accident that happened there on Monday serves as a good example of why Fort Lee is now issuing tickets for pedestrians who are walking while text messaging. 26-year-old Miriam Contreras-Rivera of West Valley City was killed when she walked into the path of an arriving light rail train on Monday.

Why would anyone do that? The question may forever be totally unanswered, but video taken from cameras installed at a South Salt Lake TRAX station showed all crossing signals and barriers were working properly. They also showed something else: Contreras-Rivera's head was down in the moments before she was struck and killed by the train.

While the video was not clear enough to determine if she was texting or otherwise occupied with her cell phone, that is the suspicion, at this point.

 Utah Transit Authority spokesman Gerry Carpenter said, "She doesn’t appear to hesitate crossing [despite the blaring of the train’s horn or activated safety signals]. We are considering it a case of distraction and that contributed to the accident, but as to the exact nature of that distraction we have not determined that at this point."

Incidents similar to this are why Fort Lee instituted its new law. There had been three deaths and 20 accidents in Fort Lee related to pedestrians and texting already this year, prior to the enactment of the law.

In terms of their new law, Fort Lee Police Chief Thomas Ripoli said, of texting, that “It’s a big distraction. Pedestrians aren’t watching where they are going; they are not aware.”

Fort Lee police have issued 117 of the $85 tickets since they began enforcing the law.  After a short grace period in March during which time the police handed out educational pamphlets, then began enforcement.

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