Rail safety expert ‘stunned’ by police negligence in Weld County rail collision | New

A suspect held in the back of a Platteville police cruiser was hit by a train on the evening of September 16 in Weld County

Two minutes of conscious reaction could have stopped the horrific rail collision that happened just north of Platteville nearly two weeks ago, according to a rail safety expert who watched the video and was interviewed about it by The Gazette.

That’s how long it took from when police opened a squad car door and put a suspect inside to when the SUV was hit by a Union locomotive Pacific (UP) and dragged on the tracks. Those two minutes, Craig Cox said, would have been just enough time for officers to pull the car out of the way.

“Once they put her in the vehicle, they should have moved it. Their first priority should have been to get her off the tracks once they detained her,” Cox said. “Two minutes is a long time. But the vehicle shouldn’t have been parked on the tracks in the first place.”

Yareni Rios-Gonzalez, 20, of Greeley, handcuffed behind the driver’s seat and surrounded by a police cage, miraculously survived the collision. His attorney, Paul Wilkinson, said the train was likely traveling at around 55 miles per hour when it collided with the vehicle.

Rios-Gonzalez is a Transportation Safety Administration officer.

Union Pacific officials said the locomotive would have needed at least a mile of track to come to a stop.

Craig Cox, who worked for Union Pacific for more than 30 years as a bandleader and ultimately oversaw safety and operational issues, said he was ‘stunned’ after watching the eight-minute video on police body and dash cam. Cox doesn’t think the police should be held criminally responsible, but said she should have known better. “There was negligence on the part of every officer who was there and involved prior to impact. It is impossible that no officer realized that the car was on the tracks,” he said.

The Colorado Bureau of Investigation still has the file and will turn it over to the Weld County District Attorney’s Office once the interviews are complete. Spokeswoman Krista Henery confirmed the charges would potentially involve the original road rage incident, and could also include the Ft. Lupton and Platteville police departments.

Cox said that when law enforcement responds to an incident near railroad tracks, they are required to notify the railroad’s response management communications center or their dispatcher.

There were three officers at the scene that night. Two of them were looking for a gun in the suspect’s car when the oncoming locomotive gave its first warning bellow, video shows. But at the time, they were talking about whether the suspect had tried to elude them or had thrown a weapon out the window and therefore may not have heard the initial horn, the video shows.

The next set of horns came 8 seconds later and continued to honk urgently as the train lights grew brighter, the video shows, but by then it was too late to react. On the video, the Platteville officer looks confused as if he didn’t know the suspect was inside.

Within seconds, his police vehicle with Rios-Gonzalez trapped inside, is hit by the oncoming locomotive.

The incident began Sept. 16 at 7 p.m. with a report to Platteville police that someone was brandishing a handgun on Highway 85 “somewhere in the Fort. Lupton area” according to a Ft. Lupton Police Department press release.

The Platteville officer was the first to pursue the suspect truck and was in the process of dragging Rios-Gonzalez out. She did it, finally, with her hands in the air. She asked for her cell phone and, in response to an officer’s question, said there was no gun in the truck.

Authorities later found the weapon in the truck.

The video, obtained by Gazette partner 9News, shows a Ft. Lupton police car racing to help the Platteville officer. The suspect, Rios-Gonzalez, had stopped in what Fort. Lupton police called a “high risk” vehicle at the intersection of Highway 85 and Weld County Road 36.

The Platteville officer’s patrol car sat on the railroad tracks, and Rios-Gonzalez’s truck was parked in front. There are no crossing barriers and no lights at the intersection, although there are white crossing signs on either side for oncoming traffic to see.

The eight minutes sent to KUSA were just a snippet of what Wilkinson said was at least 20 hours of total video in the investigation.

Rios-Gonzalez was released from hospital over the weekend after being treated for nine broken ribs, a broken arm, a broken leg, a broken sternum and head injuries and is recovering according to Wilkinson.

The fact that Rios-Gonzalez survived may have been down to a few strokes of luck. Sources close to the investigation say she was locked in a police car cage which, ironically, is designed for the safety of a police officer. Instead, it was the suspect who survived because although the police vehicle was crushed into a mound of metal, the cage provided a second level of protection, sources said. She was seated behind the driver’s seat and the train that hit the opposite side also helped cushion the blow, the source said.

Reached by The Gazette, a Union Pacific spokeswoman said the conductor was shaken but not injured. Robynn Tysver said the UP train has a front-facing camera, but the company won’t release it as it’s part of the investigation.

The Gazette asked to hear the black box, but Tysver also denied that request.

Several agencies are investigating this case. The Fort Lupton Police Department is handling the criminal investigation into the reported road rage incident. Colorado State Patrol investigates the train wreck in the police cruiser. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation is investigating the woman’s injuries while in police custody.