Flowers and stuffed animals line the spot where White Rock resident Anita Lewis

Safety review vowed after White Rock train fatality

‘Split-second’ tragedy prompts city to examine what can be done to prevent similar deaths

As the investigation into Sunday’s tragic death of White Rock woman Anita Lewis continues, the city’s mayor is pledging to examine what more can be done to prevent similar tragedies along the waterfront railway tracks.

“We will review our current policies to see if there’s any other measures that the City of White Rock can take,” Wayne Baldwin announced at the start of Monday night’s council meeting, noting that review would get underway following conclusion of the police investigation.

Lewis, 42, died at about 9:45 p.m. July 14 after she was struck by a northbound passenger train as she jogged across the tracks at the pedestrian crossing in the 15600-block of Marine Drive.

Police are still trying to determine if Lewis was wearing headphones at the time and if the train’s engineer had sounded its whistle prior.

While BC Coroner’s Service spokesperson Barb McLintock would not comment on its investigation – saying “we haven’t quite started (it) yet” – a longtime friend of Lewis’s husband Mike Grahame said images from a surveillance tape viewed by BCCS reveal that Lewis looked to the right before jogging across the tracks, as the northbound train came from her left.

“The video showed that Mike was just eight seconds ahead of her,” said Greg Fraser.

“She was just running up the path and was focused on her running and she reached the top of the path and then… It was a split-second thing.”

Fraser – speaking to media on behalf of the husband – said Grahame had crossed the train tracks leading to the promenade and was running on the boardwalk when he heard the train screech to a halt.

Doubling back, Grahame realized Lewis had been struck.

The fatality took place in front of a number of witnesses, including off-duty emergency responders who attempted to revive Lewis at the scene.

While Baldwin was reported in other media Monday saying witnesses told him they hadn’t heard the train’s whistle sound in the moments before Lewis was struck, he told Peace Arch News Wednesday it is not the key issue.

“I don’t know whether the whistle blew or not, but it’s very clear that the train is there,” Baldwin said. “It’s almost a moot point as to whether the whistle blew, because it’s a pretty big object and pretty hard to miss.”

Baldwin noted Transport Canada requires engineers to sound their train’s whistle three times upon entering and exiting an area of pedestrian crossings such as the waterfront.

While an agreement reached in the late 1980s between the city, BNSF and Transport Canada – as a result of local noise complaints – means whistles are not to be sounded between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m., the rule does not apply to train bells, which are “going all the time,” Baldwin said.

Amtrak spokesperson Vernae Graham confirmed Wednesday that those bells were operating on the train in question.

In the days since the fatality, waterfront residents have reported an increase in sustained train whistles.

Baldwin said steps the city may consider at the crossing include more signage and the addition of a warning device of sorts, with an aim to increase community awareness. At the same time, “I don’t know how you can make people more aware,” he said.

“The track is there, it’s known that there are trains on it, there’s an increasing number of trains, the train is big… and it can’t stop.

“You really have to treat it like a crosswalk situation – that’s what it is, fundamentally. You wouldn’t step off into a heavily trafficked area without looking, that’s obviously asking for trouble.”

He described Lewis’s death as “a tragic loss, a tragic situation.”

A public celebration of life for Lewis is to take place at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday (July 23) at Victory Memorial Park, 14831 28 Ave.

In lieu of flowers, donations to Peace Arch Hospital emergency department are encouraged, as a thank you to emergency personnel who tried to save Lewis.

 

-With files from Sarah Massah

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