Mother encouraged 8-year-old girl to crawl under train that dragged and killed her, police say


A Fresno mother was arrested this week after authorities said she told her 8-year-old daughter to crawl underneath the car of an idling train that lurched forward and killed her.

Joy Collins, 44, was arrested late Monday on suspicion of trespassing and child neglect likely to cause great bodily injury or death after the train dragged her daughter, Joy Anna Harris, roughly 500 feet and partially dismembered her, said Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer.

“It’s unfortunate circumstances,” Dyer said during a news conference Tuesday. “We have an 8-year-old girl that not only died … but suffered an incredible tragic death.”


Joy Anna died just before 6 p.m. Monday at North Diana Street and East Belmont Avenue.

Dyer gave the following account of events:

The girl had been traveling with her mother and 9-year-old brother to a bus stop west of the train tracks. Collins told the children they had to rush to the bus stop and directed her son to crawl underneath a freight train that had stopped in their path.

The boy crossed under the train first, but Joy Anna was reluctant to follow. At her mother’s insistence, the girl crawled under the train car. Witnesses told police Collins yelled at the children to “hurry up” or they would miss the bus.

But the train — which had stopped for about 12 seconds — lurched forward, pinned the girl and dragged her south along the tracks. Collins chased the train until it stopped again and she pulled her daughter from underneath the freight car. The girl was dead when authorities arrived.

Dyer said Collins, who had been visited by Fresno County child welfare services in the past, directed her children to cross the tracks in a similar fashion seven other times. The circumstances surrounding her prior contact with child protective services were not clear.

Detectives determined that Collins was negligent based on witness statements, the darkness of the area at the time and the girl’s reluctance to follow her mother’s instructions.

“There is a balance that we have to achieve in law enforcement. One … is to be compassionate and understand the loss of life experienced by someone in this case, but at the same time, there’s an accountability factor,” Dyer said. “No one last night wanted to arrest the mother for this crime, but the law is the law and she placed that child — her child — in grave danger.”


Twitter: @Hannahnfry