Santa Fe police say surveillance video captured by a New Mexico Rail Runner train shows that the bicyclist hit and killed by the train on Saturday was riding in a different direction than was stated in previous police reports.
The video shows the cyclist was trying to ride west across St. Francis Drive at Zia Road when the light for traffic on St. Francis appears to green. She makes it across St. Francis safely but then rides in front of the southbound train that was crossing Zia, according to a police news release.
Suzanne LeBeau, 60, of Santa Fe was hit and killed by the Rail Runner just before 11 a.m. Saturday.
The Rail Runner crosses Zia just west of St. Francis, and gates block traffic at the intersection as the train passes. The Santa Fe Rail Trail, popular with cyclists, runs north and south of Zia along the train tracks and goes across St. Francis via a crosswalk on the west side of St. Francis
LeBeau, an experienced cyclist, was hit by a southbound train where the tracks cross the Rail Trail and the sidewalk on the south side of Zia. Previous police reports, apparently based on witness accounts, said Lebeau had been traveling north on the Rail Trail and rode in front of the train where the trail turns east briefly toward the St. Francis crosswalk.
But investigators have now reviewed the train’s surveillance video, SFPD announced today.
It shows LeBeau actually heading west on Zia Road, crossing Saint Francis, using the crosswalk on the south side of the intersection, police said.
“The light controlling traffic on Saint Francis appears to turn green as LeBeau is near the median in the middle of the intersection. She makes it safely across (St. Francis) as the Rail Runner conductor blows his horn, and she is hit by the southbound train,” the police statement says.
Police spokeswoman Celina Westervelt said one witness who was driving south on St. Francis told police he or she had to slow down to give LeBeau a chance to get across the street just before she was hit.
Investigators continue to review the video and additional pieces of evidence searching for more clues as the case develops, the SFPD news release says.
All lights, arms, horns and other safety equipment for both the Rail Runner and intersection were working properly.
While LeBeau was wearing a helmet, officers did not find evidence that she was wearing headphones, the latest news release states. Some media reports after the wreck indicated witnesses had said that LeBeau was seen with headphones, but her friends and family say that is something she would never do while riding a bike.
SANTA FE – Suzanne LeBeau was an avid bicyclist who was interested in the affairs of her community.
According to minutes from a Santa Fe Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting in 2009, she asked what was the best way to give input about “the inadequate bicycle paths around the railway.”
On Saturday, while riding her bike on Santa Fe’s Rail Trail, LeBeau, 60, was struck and killed by a Rail Runner train leaving Santa Fe. She was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident, which occurred about 11 a.m. at the railroad crossing at St. Francis and Zia.
According to police, LeBeau was riding her bicycle north on the Rail Trail bike path, which parallels St. Francis at that point, when she turned east on the path to cross the train tracks and was struck by a southbound train.
SFPD spokesperson Celina Westervelt said that gates across Zia that block vehicle traffic and bells and flashing light signals that warn of oncoming trains were properly functioning. The gates do not cross the bike path or the sidewalk that cross the tracks.
Westervelt added that witnesses told police that the train’s horn sounded several times before the train hit LeBeau.
Some media outlets reported that witnesses said LeBeau was wearing headphones, but Westervelt said that hasn’t been confirmed. “We still haven’t found evidence to support that,” she said.
Richard White, a friend of LeBeau’s and president of their neighborhood association, said it was highly unlikely LeBeau was wearing headphones.
“Suzanne was very much a safety girl. She would not have been wearing headphones,” he said. “I was in her house today and the only pair of headphones she owns was on her desk.”
White said he’s known LeBeau, who had her own real estate company called LeBeau Premier Properties, for about 20 years. He said he got to know her better after her husband, William Kammer, died in 1999.
“She was very much into bicycling, and she liked the outdoors. I know she was passionate about her family and loved to spend time with them and play board games, like Scrabble and Balderdash,” he said. “She liked to laugh. She liked to work in her garden and she was interested in helping people. She was a caring, loving person.”
White said LeBeau came to New Mexico from the Chicago area. Eventually, two sisters and her mother also relocated to the Santa Fe area.
Tim Rogers, a board member for the Bicycle Coalition of New Mexico, was at that 2009 meeting LeBeau attended while he was working for the New Mexico Department of Transportation. He didn’t specifically recall LeBeau speaking but said the meeting took place about the time the Rail Trail was being built.
He said the DOT designed the trail and that there had been discussion about installing signals to alert bicyclists and pedestrians of oncoming trains, but DOT decided not to.
“That was based on the belief that the flashers and gates, plus the noise the train makes would be sufficient for cyclists to stop,” he said.
‘Hard to imagine’
Rogers said he couldn’t fathom how LeBeau would have missed seeing the train. “That’s really hard to imagine that a northbound cyclist would not see a southbound train,” he said.
Stephen Newhall, manager of Rob and Charlie’s bike shop in Santa Fe, couldn’t understand it either.
“I ride through that area several times a week, in the morning when there’s frequently a train in the vicinity. It’s really hard not to hear or miss the train,” he said. “Sometimes when you’re riding the bike path you end up with a sense of complacency, thinking this is totally safe. That could have been a part of it.”
Newhall said installing signals for bicyclists crossing train tracks is something that should be considered. He noted that bikers traveling the Rail Trail cross train tracks six times. “But you can’t eliminate every risk in the universe,” he said.
Augusta Meyers, spokeswoman for the Rio Metro Regional Transit District, said the train engineer and conductor were both offered and accepted three days off, which she said was standard procedure. They were also offered counseling.
Meyers said that while the transit district will conduct its own assessment of what happened, Santa Fe police have jurisdiction and would undertake a full investigation. She said that Rail Runner trains are equipped with cameras and that video from the train that struck LeBeau could be used in the investigation.
LeBeau is the first bicyclist to be killed in Santa Fe since July 2005, when 58-year-old Judy Scasserra-Cinciripini was struck by a drunken driver on Old Santa Fe Trail.
“It’s very sad, but biking is still a safe way to get around,” Rogers said. “Two deaths in almost nine years – we’ve had a lot more pedestrian and motorist fatalities.”
On April 14, a Rail Runner train struck and killed a woman on the tracks near Second Street and Prosperity in Albuquerque. The victim has been identified as Mary Odell, 67, of Albuquerque.