By Jordan Steffen and Caitlin Gibbons
The Denver Post
Published: September 7, 2011 01:48PM
Updated: September 7, 2011 01:48PM
Longmont community service officer Steve Sisson measures the scene after a woman fell under a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train in Longmont, Colo., on Monday, Sept. 5, 2011. Authorities say a 17-year-old university student lost both her legs at the knee when she fell under a moving freight train while trying to hop aboard it in Longmont. She was flown to Denver Health Medical Center after the accident Monday. Hospital officials say they cannot release any information. (AP Photo/Longmont Times-Call, Richard M. Hackett) Longmont, Colo. • The train was traveling 10 mph or so, a speed that looks slow for a lumbering collection of freight cars but is really the equivalent of a brisk 6-minute mile — a pace few people can reach and fewer can maintain.
Regardless, four people trying to get from Longmont to Fort Collins made a run for it Monday afternoon. Police said the first two made it, reaching the 33rd of 118 cars and hopping up.
Then, it was 17-year-old Anna Beninati’s turn.
The Colorado State University freshman from Sandy ran, reached and fell, rolling partly onto the tracks, her legs stretched beneath a freight car probably weighing at least 30 tons.
A day later, Beninati was in serious condition at Denver Health Medical Center, both legs amputated, one above the knee and one below. A combination of luck and a calm response from bystanders, however, may have saved her life.
“From the first responders and transport teams, to the hospitals both in Longmont and Denver, we are thankful to everyone who came to her rescue. We are especially grateful to several bystanders who provided aid for our daughter at the scene,” Beninati’s family said in a statement released by the hospital Tuesday. “Our family is focused on our daughter and her recovery, and we ask that you respect our privacy during this very difficult time.”
The Longmont Times-Call identified one of those bystanders as lab assistant Nicole Crowley. Authorities identified the other as nurse Kathy Poiry, both of whom work at Longmont United Hospital.
A recording of Crowley’s call to 911 seconds after the accident is remarkable not for its drama but for Crowley’s calm demeanor.
“I am on Third Avenue at the railroad tracks, and somebody just tried to jump on the train and severed her legs,” she tells a calltaker matter-of-factly. “I really want to get over there and help her.”
While Poiry races to attend to Beninati, Crowley, a former emergency medical technician, gets the teen to talk, even getting her name and age and relaying it to the dispatcher while fetching gloves for Poiry, describing the injuries and applying pressure to reduce the bleeding.
“Lay your head back, honey,” Crowley can be heard saying to Beninati. “She’s awake. She’s very, very, very pale.”
Poiry, a 25-year nurse, was at the crossing, about four cars back, and thinks she saw the teenager fall. The nurse responded to the commotion. Beninati was aware of what had happened and was terrified.
“She kept asking, ‘Am I going to die? Am I going to make it?’ “ said Poiry, who reassured the girl as she applied pressure to help stem the bleeding.
The 10 minutes before paramedics arrived seemed like three hours, Poiry said.
“It was just 10 minutes of my life, but I hope it made a difference,” she said.
Beninati is the second CSU student in 19 months to be killed or seriously injured while “train hopping.” A 22-year-old senior was killed in February 2010 after hopping a northbound train at Denver’s Pepsi Center. His body was found along the tracks in northern Colorado.
Longmont police are deciding whether to issue trespassing citations to the 17-year-old and 21-year-old males who were with Beninati and boarded the train. Another man, Charles Hamilton, 25, of Gillette, Wyo., did not board the train and stopped to help Beninati.
Statistics indicate the minor trespass charge for train hopping does not serve as much of a deterrent.
In 2010, 443 trespassers nationwide were killed and another 833 injured in interactions with trains, according to preliminary railroad-safety statistics for that year compiled by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration. Of those injured, 41 suffered amputations of feet or legs.
The slow-moving freight train is a fixture near the CSU campus in Fort Collins and in Longmont. In interviews Tuesday, few people acknowledged train hopping themselves, but several said they knew someone who had done it.
Shawnte McCoy, 26, who grew up in Longmont, has seen many people riding trains and trying to board them over the years.
“It’s a pretty common thing for people to hop on the trains, especially when the trains are stopped near First and Main,” she said. “My husband, Chris, broke his arm trying to hop a train when he was 14 years old.”
Peter Hunt, 52, who lives in Fort Collins, hopped trains with his Navy buddies when he was 18 in Montana.
“The train tracks were right across the street; there were no barriers to get to them,” he said. “It can seem romantic, but it’s not. It can be a very dangerous way to travel. You don’t know who the people who ride the rails are. They can be very crusty individuals.”
Cmdr. Jeff Satur with the Longmont Police Department said most of the train-related incidents his agency deals with are suicides.
He echoed warnings about the danger of trying to hop onto a moving train.
“The railroads put out public-service announcements about the dangers of riding trains, but it’s glamorized by books,” Satur said. “It’s really incredibly risky.”
Jordan Steffen: 303-954-1794 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Police: No ticket for teen whose legs were severed
A police commander said Wednesday that authorities will not issue a trespassing ticket to a Colorado State University student whose legs were severed when she tried to hop a moving train.
Police Cmdr. Jeff Satur said Anna Beninati has more important things to worry about after losing both legs near her knees when she slipped under the freight train’s wheels in the northern Colorado town of Longmont.
“We’re a compassionate police department,” he said.
Beninati, 17, of Sandy, was listed in serious condition at Denver Health Medical Center on Tuesday. A hospital spokeswoman didn’t immediately return a call Wednesday.
Two males age 17 and 25 who planned to hop the train with Beninati were cited for trespassing on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe’s right-of-way.
Police also plan to issue a trespassing ticket to a 21-year-old who was in the group but haven’t been able to locate him, although they have spoken with him on the phone, Satur said.
Satur said he will seek an arrest warrant if the man doesn’t show up at the police station to get his ticket.
Beninati and the three males had gone to Denver earlier Monday and were trying to get back to Fort Collins, home of Colorado State, Satur said. A friend with a car got them from Denver to Longmont, about the halfway mark for the 60-mile trip, and they planned to ride the freight train the rest of the way, Satur said.
The 17-year-old male, who is from Fort Collins, got aboard the train but quickly jumped off, suffering abrasions on his left arm, Satur said.
Satur identified the third male as Charles Hamilton, 25, of Gillette, Wyo. He didn’t get aboard the train and wasn’t injured. Investigators believe he pulled the girl away from the train after she was hurt.
— Dan Elliott, The Associated Press