Freight Train Kills Man in Wheelchair

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A Van Nuys man in a wheelchair was killed and a woman was injured Wednesday when they were hit by a freight train in Northridge, police said.

Stephen Aroff, 43, and Patti Wainer, 39, were at the train crossing in the 8300 block of Balboa Boulevard about 12:45 p.m. when Aroff started to cross, police and witnesses said.

The wheels of his motorized wheelchair got caught in the tracks, said Officer Walter Hogue of the Los Angeles Police Department's Valley Traffic Division.

The 4,800-ton freight train was moving about 40 mph and headed for San Luis Obispo. Crossing lights were flashing and the gates were down, Hogue said.

Wainer unsuccessfully tried to pull him back, said Brian Humphrey, spokesman for the Los Angeles City Fire Department.

The freight train hit the two, dragging Aroff about 100 feet, police said. He died at the scene. Police are investigating the incident as a possible suicide.

Wainer, who lives in Colorado and is the widow of Aroff's best friend, was transported to Northridge Hospital Medical Center, where she underwent surgery for a fractured leg. She is listed in stable condition, said Kate Preston, a hospital spokeswoman.

Aroff became a quadriplegic in a construction accident in 1988. He fell 17 feet and broke his back while working on the roof of a residential development, said his mother, Joy Aroff.

She said her son had been upset lately due to the death of his best friend, Billy Wainer. He was killed in January in an accidental shooting, and the two had been friends since second grade, she said.

He also was struggling with bladder and skin problems as well as depression, she said.

"For a long time he really handled it very well," Aroff said. "In recent years, as time went on and he finally realized he's not going to get up and walk out of the wheelchair, it was harder for him."

Aroff is uncertain if her son's death was suicide. "I think it is a possibility only because I understand the train was so close," she said.

Aroff is also survived by four brothers and a sister.

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