As family and friends mourned the death of a 46-year-old Maine woman whose body was found in the Saugatuck River after being struck last week by a Metro-North train, railroad officials said Tuesday that they did not report the incident to Westport police or their own police force.
A Metro-North spokesman said that while the train that killed Annette L. White stopped after the impact and crew members inspected the scene, there was no sign at the time that someone had been hit.
White died of blunt impact injuries when struck from behind by a westbound train about 6:40 p.m. Thursday, just east of the Saugatuck station, as she crossed the bridge in an apparent effort to reach the depot. The impact caused White to tumble into the icy Saugatuck River beneath the span, where her body was found near the mouth of the river about 9:15 a.m. the next morning by a duck hunter in a kayak.
Westport police detectives, as of Tuesday, were still trying to piece together White's whereabouts from 4 p.m. Thursday, when she was last seen alive in the home at Owenoke Park where she had been staying since July, and the time of the fatal accident.
She was walking west, apparently following the tracks after leaving the Owenoke neighborhood, and then headed onto the railroad tracks to cross the river, police said. She was crossing the span — on the side opposite its narrow pedestrian walkway — when the train heading into the Saugatuck station struck her, according to police Capt. Vincent Penna.
The engineer stopped the train after feeling it might have struck something, but the incident was not reported to Metropolitan Transportation Authority police, Metro-North spokesman Salvatore Arena said Tuesday.
Metro-North also did not notify Westport police to the incident, Penna confirmed Tuesday.
Penna said his department learned about the train incident when a passenger on that train, who had read news accounts of White's death, notified police Monday. That information, supported by footage from a nearby video-surveillance camera, confirmed that the train stopped on the bridge for about 20 minutes Thursday night and that the crew left the train to search around the lead car.
The video footage of the emergency stop was recorded by a camera at the station set up to alert commuters waiting inside the depot when trains are arriving.
The impact of White being struck cannot be determined from the footage, Penna said.
The accident "was in the dark and at a distance from the camera, but what was clear was that the train stopped abruptly and there were people on the track area examining the front and sides of the train," he said.
Police were able to confirm that White was struck on the bridge after divers on Monday searched the area below where the train made its emergency stop and found a cellphone and an earring on a bridge pier. It was later confirmed that the phone and jewelry were White's.
The MTA police division has begun its own investigation of the events that led to White's death, Arena said.
He said the train personnel notified Metro-North's Operations Control Center at Grand Central Terminal about the emergency stop, as required. But after finding what they called "minor damage" on the front of the head car, the crew saw no other debris or evidence that the train might have struck a person, he said.
Arena said there is no protocol requiring Metro-North to report an unconfirmed strike to MTA police.
"They reported the hit to Metro-North rail traffic control, and they got out and inspected the train for 20 minutes-plus," Arena said. "The slight damage done to the front of the train didn't give them any indication they had struck a person."
He said there is often debris on the tracks that could trigger a similar inspection. Usually it is determined that a train has hit some kind of inanimate object, including old railroad ties placed on the tracks by vandals or illegally dumped furniture or appliances. Such an incident would not usually be reported to the MTA police.