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3 Men Apparently Crushed by Shifting Cargo in Boxcar

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Three men believed to be transients were found dead Tuesday morning in a railroad freight car in Commerce, apparently crushed by shifting cargo, sheriff’s deputies said.

The partially decomposed bodies were discovered by a warehouse worker who was preparing to unload the car, which had been left by a Southern Pacific freight train sometime overnight, Los Angeles County sheriff’s spokesman Gabe Ramirez said.

The men, who had not been identified, apparently died when they were pinned against the side of the car by steel I-beams, Ramirez said. The bodies could not be removed for several hours, until the heavy beams were taken off the top-loading gondola by crane, he said.

It had not been determined how long the men had been dead.

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“We’ve found transients in our cars before, but we’ve never found any of them to be dead,” said Holger Lohfeld, vice president of Johannessen Trading Co., where the bodies were discovered. The cargo, which came from a steel mill in New Orleans, weighed about 90 tons, he said.

Investigators believe the three men illegally boarded the Los Angeles-bound freight car in Texas several days ago.

Such train-related deaths have become more common in the last five years as increasing numbers of people have tried hopping rides on unsecured freight trains, according to Mike Furtney, a spokesman for Southern Pacific.

“The current economic situation has forced people to use these trains because they’re free,” Furtney said. “Obviously, it’s extremely dangerous, and very often it’s a very poor transportation choice.”

Besides the danger of being crushed by shifting cargo, Furtney noted, stowaways can suffocate or starve before reaching their destination. In addition, dozens of people are killed each year trying to board moving trains, he said.


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