Police: Motorist killed drove in front of Denver train

AP News
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Posted: Feb 14, 2017 6:51 PM

DENVER (AP) — Authorities are investigating whether the motorist hit and killed by Denver's airport train before dawn Tuesday intentionally pulled his van front of it, police said.

The unidentified man drove past a police officer guarding a rail crossing in suburban Aurora about 3:50 a.m. and onto the first of two sets of tracks before the crossing gates and lights activated, Sgt. Chris Amsler said.

Surveillance video showed the van stayed there for 38 seconds before driving onto the second set of tracks used by the approaching train, Amsler said. Crossing lights were flashing, and the gate was down, he said.

The train hit the van and pushed it for about a quarter of a mile before the conductor was able to stop the train.

The driver, who made no attempt to put the van in reverse, would have been safe if he had stayed on the first set of tracks, Amsler said.

Three injured train passengers were treated at the scene and one was taken to a hospital.

Denver's Regional Transportation District opened the airport train line in April despite problems during testing with crossing gates going down when trains were not passing or not fully going down when they were.

State regulators required posting workers around the clock at the crossings as a temporary solution.

The police officer as well as a flagger were stationed at the Aurora crossing at the time of the crash. After trying to stop the driver, the officer ran to avoid flying debris from the collision, Amsler said.

Police said their initial investigation showed that the crossing's gates and lights were functioning properly.

The Federal Railroad Administration has granted several 90-day operational waivers to allow the airport trains to run while RTD and its contractor, Denver Transit Partners, work to resolve the problem. The most recent waiver was granted in January.

FRA investigators were at the scene Tuesday. The agency said the investigation will have no immediate impact on the agency's waiver for the rail line.

There have been other problems since the line opened, including sporadic delays and power outages.

In May, about 80 passengers were evacuated when a train became stranded on a 50-foot-high bridge.

The cause was lightning that severed a wire supporting electricity lines, disrupting power used by the electric powered trains, RTD said.

During the initial investigation Tuesday, trains were running from Denver's downtown Union Station to a station in Aurora, where airport-bound passengers were transferred to shuttle buses.

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Associated Press writer James Anderson in Denver contributed to this report.