By Mike Schneider Associated Press
MELBOURNE, Fla. — A “no trespassing” sign warned four teenagers in Florida not to walk onto the railroad trestle where they were joking around and taking pictures.
A fisherman along the banks of the creek below also told them to be careful.
The final warning was the howling whistle of an oncoming train. They tried to heed the piercing alarm, but only one was able to sprint to safety.
The other three, all girls, were struck and killed by the train Saturday, police and witnesses said. Onlookers yelled for the teens to run or jump into the slow-moving water of Cane Creek 20 feet below, but only a young boy made it off the 200-foot span.
Cmdr. Ron Bell of the Melbourne Police Department said today that police believe the teens were taking a shortcut.
The teenagers had been hanging out in Melbourne’s downtown area — known for its shops and nightclubs — when they decided to cross the trestle around 6:30 p.m., Lt. Curtis Barger said. Their parents had dropped them off at a mall, and then they took a bus downtown where they were “just goofing off,” he said, without elaborating.
Bruce Dumas, 53, was fishing under the bridge when he saw the teens walk onto the trestle. He warned them to be careful, but he said they didn’t pay much attention to him.
“You know how kids are,” Dumas said. “They probably wanted pictures of themselves on the track.”
Dumas said he heard the train’s whistle, then the sound of the brakes. After impact, he heard a girl screaming and crying.
“I think the train was on them so fast they froze and didn’t know what to do,” Dumas said. “It’s crazy to watch a young life snuffed out like that. They didn’t have a chance to live yet.”
The teens could have jumped onto an old, rusty trestle next to one they were on, though it was unclear why they didn’t.
Another fisherman, Charlie Foust, shouted at the teenagers to jump into the water.
“When they heard the train coming, they started running toward the other side,” Foust told Florida Today. “It’s sad. They were just kids. They probably got scared and didn’t know what to do.”
Barger said all the teens were from the area, but their identities weren’t likely to be released until later today, after officials can compare dental records.
“We believe we know who they are but we need to be definite about who they are,” Bell said today.
Ralph Smith said one of the teens killed was his niece, Jennifer Reichert, who was 15 and went to Southwest Middle School in Palm Bay. He did not want to comment further.
On Sunday, there was little evidence of the tragedy. A concrete post says, “Private property, no trespassing.” Another sign had fallen onto the ground and was covered in gravel, and a third was twisted and difficult to see.
Graffiti with the words “more love,” with the “o” in the shape of a heart was on the bridge. Andy Ziegler, a member of the Brevard County school board, said teens have painted graffiti on the bridge for the past three decades, but he had never before heard of an accident there.
John Vallee, 54, lives near the trestle and was watching television when he heard a loud screech. He told the Florida Today newspaper that he went outside and first thought he saw a blanket tangled under a rail car. Then he realized it was a person.
“It’s going to be hard for me to get to sleep,” Vallee told Florida Today. “I can’t get it out of my mind.”
Authorities in Melbourne, a city of about 77,000 nearly 50 miles southeast of Orlando, are investigating.
The track is owned by the Florida East Coast Railway, which operates about 350 miles of track along the state’s east coast.
In a statement, the company said it was deeply saddened. It said the tragedy was a reminder of the need for people “to respect the dangers presented by railroad tracks and operations.”