NM: Video Shows Bicyclist's Final Moments Before Train Collision

May 02--Santa Fe police released documents and video Thursday giving the most detailed look yet at the moments leading up to the death last month of Suzanne LeBeau, a 60-year-old bicyclist who investigators say failed to yield to an oncoming train at the Zia Road rail crossing.

Despite warning signals at the site, surveillance video recorded from the Rail Runner passenger train shows LeBeau ride across St. Francis Drive, along a trail next to Zia Road and directly into the path of the southbound train. She doesn't appear to take notice of the train until the last second.

Officer Patrick Sanchez concluded in a report that the "train did not have time to stop before striking the bicyclist" at about 11 a.m. April 19.

While the police investigation might be finished, LeBeau's family still has questions, her sister Janet Bostelmann said Thursday. Bostelmann said the family plans to petition the state to add additional safety measures at the crossing. While gates block traffic on Zia Road while a train is passing, there are no barriers to riders and pedestrians crossing the tracks.

"They either have to put up a gate or they have to blow the horn every time the train goes through," Bostelmann said. "The family will be fighting very hard to make that happen, so no one else has to go through this."

The video is of medium quality, but it clearly shows LeBeau wearing a helmet. A witness at the scene had told a police officer that she might have been wearing earphones before she was hit, but she doesn't appear to be wearing earphones in the video, and police have said none were found at the scene.

The video shows that the crossing-gate arms were blocking motorized traffic on Zia Road at the St. Francis Drive intersection, but it's unclear if LeBeau sees those barriers or their flashing lights as she rides toward the tracks, or whether she hears the warning bells, all of which were working properly at the time, police say. The video does not include an audio recording of the incident.

The video shows LeBeau maintaining a steady speed as she approaches the train crossing.

The train engineer had told police that he anticipated the cyclist wasn't going to stop, according to a report, so he blew the train horn and "engaged the emergency stop."

LeBeau does appear to look at the train for a brief moment when her front tire hits a yellow rumble strip at the rail crossing, and in the span of a second, she jerks the handle bars as if she is trying to adjust her trajectory. Then LeBeau disappears below the camera's view.

An officer reported there were no skid marks on the trail, indicating LeBeau might not have used her brakes.

The Rail Runner took at least another five seconds to come to a stop next to the unused Zia Station platform, the video shows. A Rail Runner spokeswoman has said that it takes the train between a quarter-mile and half-mile to stop.

Since the incident, cycling advocates have said the accident might have been prevented if the New Mexico Department of Transportation had equipped the trail crossing with its own gate or similar safety equipment.

A spokeswoman said Thursday afternoon that the agency is "looking into" the incident, but "no findings or decisions have been made."

Contact Chris Quintana at 986-3093 or cquintana@sfnewmexican.com.

Copyright 2014 - The Santa Fe New Mexican

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