A 15-year-old Palo Alto High School student struck by a train Friday night on a nearby railroad track is the school’s second apparent suicide in two years.
Caltrain police said the teen was alone when he was hit by a southbound Amtrak passenger train around 7:45 p.m. on an empty stretch of track behind Town & Country Village Shopping Center. One block away, the school’s football stadium was crowded with spectators, watching Palo Alto play Mountain View High School.
“How horrible. How very, very sad,” said Margo Wixsom, a photography teacher who lost her son Ryan to suicide at age 18. Catching up on work in an empty classroom at the school on Sunday afternoon, Wixsom said the death triggered memories of last year’s death, as well as her own loss. “Every time a train passes every half hour you are reminded. Every time you hear the sound, you are reminded all over again.”
The train’s engineer told police he saw the silhouette of a person walking along the tracks on the cool, wet night. The engineer said he slowed the train, blew its horn and flashed the lights. He said the person turned to face the train and stepped into its path. The train was traveling at 35 mph.
The tragedy comes as the school was beginning to heal from a similar death on Oct. 7, 2002. A 14-year-old student from the same class died on the same railroad tracks, only several hundred yards away.
Last month, his parents filed an Accutane lawsuit against Roche, the manufacturer of this popular prescription drug the freshman was using to treat his acne, but which the family claims led to his suicide. The family is seeking a jury trial and unspecified general and punitive damages.
There were 17 fatalities on Caltrain tracks in 2000; 14 in 2001; five in 2002, and 10 so far this year. Of those deaths over those years, about two-thirds were suicides, said Caltrain spokeswoman Jayme Kunz.
Shocked by last year’s suicide, Principal Sandra Pearson has devoted much of the past year to educating teachers, parents and students about warning signs of suicide or depression. She has repeatedly urged parents to be alert for signs of trouble.
Last Monday marked the beginning of a new semester at the high school; report cards for the previous semester were issued on Thursday and Friday.