CARLSBAD, Calif. (KGTV) - August 7, 2014, was one of the best days of Amanda Sztoltz' life until it turned into the worst day.
Sztoltz spent her 33rd birthday in Carlsbad with her 23-year-old brother Patrick Terrin, who was visiting from the east coast. They went bar-hopping in the village, enjoying each others' company along with drinks at nearby restaurants.
They began walking east along Grand Avenue at about 11:30 pm, headed to their hotel when lights began flashing, and the railroad crossing bars blocked the sidewalk.
"He walked a little ahead, and he crossed the tracks before I did," Sztoltz recalled. "He was waiting on the other side of the tracks and he sort of waved for me to come on and I said I’ll wait until the train goes by."
Reports on file with the Federal Railroad Administration indicate Terrin tried to cross the tracks back to where his sister waited, but she didn't see that.
"He was standing a little too close, and the train went by and it pulled him in," said Sztoltz. Suddenly she heard screams. "Someone’s been hit." Sztoltz knew right away it was Patrick.
"I just fell to my knees and just started crying and screaming.”
Patrick's visit to California was supposed to end with his brother's wedding. The wedding became his funeral.
Now his sister and their father are embroiled in a wrongful death lawsuit against BNSF Railway Company, the City of Carlsbad and others. The lawsuit claims the Grand Avenue pedestrian crossing is unsafe because those in charge of it "negligently, carelessly and wrongfully failed to properly warn persons crossing the railroad tracks."
“He shouldn’t have died. He was just standing a little too close to a place that should have been more protected, and he just didn’t know better," said Sztoltz.
Her attorney, Browne Greene, called the crossing a "hideous hazard", pointing out the crossing bars stop vehicle traffic, but fail miserably when it comes to pedestrians walking against traffic. There are no crossing bars to keep them from stepping in front of trains that pass through town at speeds of up to 90 mph.
"This didn't have to happen," said Greene. "He was not on the rails when he was hit. He was 2-3 feet away. This was a very unforgiving situation," he added.
Greene knows the defense will try to hand its hat on the fact that Terrin was intoxicated but says that doesn't matter. He pointed out there are several bars and restaurants surrounding the railroad crossing.
"Most of the people here go across these tracks having had alcohol. He wasn’t driving a vehicle. He could have expected that he would be safe here."
The City of Carlsbad, the San Diego Association of Governments and the North County Transit District have been talking about making improvements to the crossing for years. Carlsbad paid $250,000 recently to study "trenching" the tracks, or putting them below street level.
If trenching is done, it would likely be done at the same time as the double-tracking plan now in the works.
More information on the double-track plan here.
Amanda Sztoltz says its too little too late.
"I don't know what they're waiting for," she said. "It's gonna keep happening until they do something. More and more people are gonna die."
Since 1979, documents on file with the Federal Railroad Administration show seven pedestrians were hit by trains at the Grand Avenue crossing. Five of them, including Patrick Terrin, died.
“I don’t want him to die for nothing," said Sztoltz.