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Fatal train crash footage damaged

A memorial for Nicole Lopez appears near Candelaria and the railroad tracks, where Lopez’s car was hit by a Rail Runner train, killing the 28-year-old woman. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Authorities have hit a snag in the investigation into the recent fatal crash involving a Rail Runner Express train and a car in Albuquerque.

Cameras on the train are supposed to record everything that happens while the train is operating, including collisions, but the hard drive those cameras feed into was damaged during the July 3 crash, rendering both the device and the footage useless, according to Rio Metro Regional Transit District officials. Rio Metro operates the commuter train.

Police say the southbound No. 515 train hit 28-year-old Nicole Lopez’s car after she drove under the lowering crossing arm at the Candelaria crossing near Second. Lopez, the only person in the vehicle, died.

After talking with the train’s main conductor, engineer and two witnesses, Albuquerque police suspect the crash occurred due to driver inattention, according to an accident report that states Lopez disregarded the lowering crossing arm and flashing lights in front of the tracks.

“The vehicle failed to stop for the railroad crossing arm as it was down,” Daren DeAguero, a spokesman for the Albuquerque Police Department, said in an email the night of the crash. “The vehicle went under the arm and was struck by the Rail Runner train.”

Ashley Sanchez was driving behind Lopez. She said the car did try to stop, but it was just too late.

“We had all stopped and the car just kept going, and she just braked right before the crossing arms,” Sanchez said. “Her tires squealed and she slid the rest of the way onto the tracks.”

There was no damage to the red and white striped bars, and Sanchez said Lopez’s car didn’t even hit them when the train struck her.

Without the video, investigators don’t know exactly how long Lopez’s car sat on the tracks after the guards went down and before the train struck her.

Sanchez said it couldn’t have been more than a couple of minutes from the time she and Lopez left the traffic light at Second and Candelaria to the time of the crash, but she doesn’t know how long Lopez was on the track before she was hit.

“It feels like all the time in the world … and then other days it feels like it happened in two seconds,” she said.

Rio Metro has sent the hard drive to Rail Works, the company that sold it the hard drive, records custodian for Rio Metro Wendy Candelaria said. The agency expects it will be at least another week before it knows if anything stored on the drive can be saved.

Rail Runner trains have struck and killed 19 people since they started running in 2006.

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