Seven family members on their way to work in beet and onion fields were killed Thursday when their pickup truck was smashed by an Amtrak passenger train.
The westbound train tore the full-size Ford pickup in two, scattering debris and bodies across the mile-long crash scene, witnesses said.
Sylvestre Perez, 47, slowed as he approached the railroad crossing, marked only by a stop sign, then apparently tried to beat the approaching train, said Union Pacific spokesman Ed Trandahl. Union Pacific owns the tracks on which the accident occurred near the Idaho border.
The collision at 5:25 a.m. PDT occurred under clear weather conditions in a flat onion field where visibility was at least two miles.
The train was traveling about 70 mph, within the posted limit, Amtrak spokeswoman Dawn Soper said from Los Angeles.
None of the 165 passengers or 13 crew members was injured aboard the Amtrak’s Pioneer, which left Chicago Tuesday.
The train was delayed about three hours before proceeding to Portland and Seattle.
The victims were identified as Perez; his two daughters, Lidia, 23, and Cecilia, 20; his sister, Sofia, 49; his nephew, Victorino Trinidad, 28; Lidia’s husband, Bernebe Ayala, no age available; and Sofia’s husband, Jose Luis Joaquin, 42.
The family, originally from the Mexican state of Guerrero, had lived in the Nyssa area for about seven years.
The pickup was part of a line of vehicles carrying about 40 farm workers to nearby onion and beet fields, said Amador Lopez, the crew foreman.
Lopez, in the lead vehicle, had crossed the tracks and then noticed the approaching train.
“It was daylight. I could see the train coming,” said Lopez, who was about two-thirds of a mile away when the train hit the pickup. “I saw the train carry half the truck.”
Lopez said no one in the convoy heard the train whistle before the collision.
He regretted that the crossing was not marked with lights or crossbars.
“It’s only a lonely country road … but you have lots of migrant workers going over these crossings,” Lopez said. “They should have had a crossing there. The train should have sounded its horn.”
Afterward, farm workers and friends crowded into two small clapboard houses the family rented in Nyssa.
Family members recited the rosary as they tried to cope with the tragedy.
“They were a very good family. Their plans were to live here, like everyone else,” said Julian Almaraz, a pastor from the local Latin Assembly of God church. “They’re in shock right now. They’re going through a lot of pain.”
Bernebe and Lidia Ayala had three small children who were at a day-care center at the time of the accident, said Gregoria Villegas, Lidia’s sister.
The family had recently canceled their insurance policies because they couldn’t afford the premiums, Villegas said.
The farm workers earned $4.75 an hour and usually worked 8 to 12 hours a day, Lopez said.
The family wanted to send the bodies to Mexico for burial, but did not know if it would be possible to raise the money needed.
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