A year ago this month, 10-year-old James Boyle was killed by an Amtrak train as he, his two brothers and a friend tried to outrun it on a Santa Fe Railway trestle in Santa Ana.
Neighbors said then that children playing on the tracks had become a common sight since vandals tore down a fence guarding the trestle.
Today, children still play on the tracks, and even adults cross the rails for a shortcut, residents who live nearby on Fairhaven Avenue and Lincoln Street say. The fence remains unrepaired.
The accident occurred about noon on March 30, 1988. Bonnie Pendleton, 44, was having lunch in her den.
“I had noticed several boys going onto” the trestle, she said. “About 5 minutes later, I heard the train whistle blowing very loudly and continuously.
“I looked up and in just a moment, I saw two boys run out of the mouth of the bridge and jump to the other side. I thought to myself, ‘Boy, that was close.’ Then I saw the train slowing down and I realized I had only seen two boys come out of the bridge where I saw four boys” go in.
Another boy escaped injury by leaning against the steel bridge railing.
“I feel really sorry, but they shouldn’t have been there in the first place,” Pendleton said. But every day, she added, children and adults use the railroad right of way as a shortcut.
“It’s stupid, but they do it.”
Despite two locked gates, the trestle is easily accessible. From Santiago Park to the north, there is an opening about 7 feet wide; to the east and parallel to the tracks is a fence with about a 6-foot opening, and to the south is an opening directly at the crossing.
“It has always been that way,” said Bill Elzey, 66. Echoing other neighbors, Elzey said it would be impractical to fence the tracks because people could still get in at an intersection or crossing. And those determined to get in will find a way, he added.
“There seems to be a big mystery, a big thrill to play on the tracks,” Morris Hammond, 62, said.
Other than education, residents don’t know what can be done to limit access to the tracks.
“You have got to teach children to respect trains,” Elzey said.
James Boyle’s family has filed claims against Orange County, the state of California, and the cities of Santa Ana and Orange, alleging that poor maintenance of the property created an “attractive nuisance” that led to the accident.
Another accident “definitely” could happen, said James’ mother, Marilyn Smith, 34. “The fence is the same, everything’s the same; there’s still a hole in the fence and no one has done anything.”
Each of the governments has rejected the claim, clearing the way for a lawsuit, Wylie Aitken, attorney for the family, said, adding: “It’s being drafted and I suspect it’s going to be filed in a week.”
Because of possible legal action, Smith would not say what she thinks should be done to prevent similar accidents, nor would she say if she thought someone was to blame for her son’s death.
Smith said her two sons, Dan and Kevin Boyle--who were with James and were 13 and 8 at the time--don’t play in the park anymore. Dan said he goes under the trestle sometimes. It’s a shortcut to a skateboarding place on Flower Street, he added.
Smith disputed previous reports that the boys were enacting a scene from the movie “Stand By Me,” which the family had watched on television several months before the accident.
“They weren’t playing chicken with the train,” she said. “They were on their way home.”
Smith said her family “has gone through some extreme changes” since the accident. “Jimmy was really special and we miss him a lot. It would be a terrible shame for another family to go through what we’ve gone through.”