One dead after MetroRail train hits car in North Austin



Posted on April 30, 2012 at 11:12 AM

Updated Monday, Apr 30 at 9:35 PM

AUSTIN -- One man is dead and two children were injured in an early morning crash. A Capital Metro rail train hit a car on the tracks around 7:40 a.m. Monday in Northwest Austin near SH 45 between Scofield Ridge and Oak Creek Drive.

The driver of the car has been identified as 32-year-old Jeremy Barta. He died before paramedics could get him to the hospital. The two young boys inside the car with Barta are his sons. They were rushed to Dell Children's Medical Center and are in stable condition. 
Barta was going across the tracks at a private drive when the car was hit. That crossing doesn't have any lights or arms to warn a train was coming.
Barta, a manager at an area Mr. Gattis restaurant, had moved into a home just beyond the private drive a month ago. 
The train was packed at the time of the accident. Capital Metro spokesperson Erica McKewen says there were 128 people on board including the conductor. Those passengers described hearing the horn sound then feeling the train slow down. Moments later, they felt a jolt and then saw debris and dust fly up.
“We knew that we hit something, and then we saw dust careening on the side of the train,” said passenger Jordan Hopkins.
Hopkins says he looked out the window and saw drivers on the frontage road pulling over and running toward the front of the train.  
“I don't know, natural instincts or what, but I just ran out as soon as I could,” explained Sgt. Jeffrey Hinojosa who saw the crash as he drove by.
Hinojosa was among the drivers who pulled over and ran to the car. He saw a boy crawl out from the car.
“The first child, he kind of slithered out by himself, and I picked him up and took him off to the side,” said Sgt. Hinojosa.
Hinojosa didn’t realize it at first, but a second child was still trapped inside the car.
“We began hearing him scream. (Other bystanders) broke the back window, and by then I just grabbed the door handle. I thought he said it was jammed, and I just pulled it open. Three other guys went in there and cut it out, cut him out, cut the seat belt off and stuff and got him out,” said Sgt. Hinojosa.
Paramedics arrived within 10 minutes of the first 911 call. They say the boys did not appear to have life-threatening injuries.
“It was pretty intense,” said Hopkins.
McKewen said all 128 passengers on the train, including the conductor, are okay. Paramedics took one woman to the hospital for an injury that they say wasn't related to the crash.
Capital Metro dispatched six buses to transport the rest of the passengers to their destination. The agency has not decided of disciplinary action will be taken, if any.
Austin police spokesperson Sgt. David Daniels says officers are investigating. Witnesses described hearing the conductor blow the train horn.
McKewen says the private drive Barta pulled out from is one of 12 private crossings in Austin and doesn't have crossing arms to protect drivers from oncoming trains. Instead, she says there are several warning signs including a stop sign and a train crossing sign. McKewen says conductors don’t typically blow their horns as they pass through intersections.
McKewen says this is the third crash involving the rail trains and the first fatality.