AUSTIN (KXAN) - In horrific scene that played out as commuters motored toward Downtown on Monday morning, Jeremy Barta, 32, was killed when his car was struck by a Capital MetroRail train and then dragged for several feet along the tracks.
Two children survived the wreckage near a private crossing west of Mopac Boulevard and north of Parmer Lane. Both boys were taken to Dell Children's Medical Center with minor injuries and remain in stable condition.
Passersby helped cut one of the boys loose from his seat belt with a pocket knife and the other scrambled to safety on his own.
"They broke the back window and by the end I grabbed the door handle -- and I thought he said it was jammed -- and pulled it open," said Jeffrey Hinojosa, who helped out at the scene. "About three other guys cut him out. Cut the seatbelt off and stuff and got him out."
The man who was killed was identified by friends and family members as Jeremy Barta, the father of the two boys in the vehicle.
Barta's roommate told KXAN News that he was a single father and was taking his two sons to school when the wreck happened.
Sarah Eason described Barta as "very, very mild spoken, soft spoken. Very nice person. Loved his kids."
She said Barta had moved in with her and her husband about a month ago.
The collision occurred about 7:35 a.m. on Oak Creek Drive at the MoPac frontage road heading south, near the Howard Lane station and also near Scofield Ridge Parkway.
Neighbors told KXAN News that the wreck happened near a private driveway, where there are no gates. Neighbors also said there are three homes on that private land.
Carolyn Fricke lives just feet from where the deadly wreck happened and has her own private driveway that comes across the tracks.
She said the wreck was bound to happen because the trains are so quiet that residents often don't hear them coming. Another reason she said it was just a matter of time this happened is because the trains don't honk their horns, alerting residents of their presence.
"Sometime they honk, sometimes they don't," Eason, who has filed four complaints about the crossing since 2010, added.
CapMetro spokeswoman Erica McKewen said the wreck happened at a private crossing. She said in those areas, engineers are not required to sound a train's horn nor are crossing arms required to be installed. There are 13 private train crossings, only one of which has crossing arms.
Passengers on board the train told KXAN they heard the conductor sound the horn.
Still, there are stop signs on both sides of the tracks -- meaning that cars going in both directions must stop before crossing.
Some 128 riders were on the MetroRail when it happened, but no one on board was hurt. One woman aboard the train was taken to the hospital, but EMS crews said her medical needs were not in relation to the crash.
Police said traffic will be diverted for the foreseeable future. Buses will take passengers to Downtown Austin, and the MetroRail will be back on time by afternoon's rush hour.
Service is still running between Kramer Lane and Downtown Austin, as well as Leander and Lakeline.
Meanwhile, there is no word on whether the train driver will be put on leave, and federal railroad authorities will investigate.
This is the first death involving the MetroRail.
Capital Metro issued a statement Monday afternoon expressing sorrow over the death. Linda Watson, CEO, wrote that staff is fully cooperating with the ongoing investigation of the crash. She reiterated that safety is a top priority at Capital Metro, and said that each MetroRail engineer goes through an extensive training program that meets Federal Railroad Administration regulations.
Watson encouraged everyone to always expect a train along any railroad tracks and to obey all warning signs and signals.
Capital Metro Board Chairman Mike Martinez said in a statement that "this accident is a tragedy for the entire Austin community. We are assisting authorities in the investigation and hope to gain a clearer picture of what occurred. The bottom line is that railroads and railroad crossings are serious business. I urge all Austin area residents to always expect a train."
Student run over
Monday's wreck comes days after Austin police announced they closed a probe into the deadly CapMetro bus accident that killed 22-year-old University of Texas student Andy Wang.
Police and CapMetro officials said it was a tragic accident when a CapMetro bus ran over Wang, who lost his balance and landed under the bus just before it took off.
Video released by the transit agency late Thursday shows Wang stumbling off the bus. He appears intoxicated as a friend tries to help him keep his balance. When the two get off the bus, Wang falls backward and lands underneath the back tire. The bus driver takes off, not knowing Wang was beneath the bus.
The video shows horrified passengers asking the driver to stop the bus. That driver later tries to keep those passengers away from the terrible scene outside the bus.
Wang was later pronounced dead
at the hospital. He was set to graduate from The University of Texas in December.
The bus driver in this incident was not cited. He was put on administrative leave -- which is standard procedure -- and will return to work next week.
Since the MetroRail began running in 2010, there have been two wrecks involving the train.
Cedar Park police cited the teen driver of the pickup truck involved in the MetroRail wreck in March 2011, the first for the MetroRail since it began running the year before.
Some 17 passengers, including the operator, were aboard the train when it clipped the rear passenger side of that pickup truck at a private crossing for the MetroRail. The site was also near a home.
Police said the accident happened around 9 a.m. in the 2000 block of Brushy Creek Road on a private, undeveloped road just west of South Vista Ridge Boulevard.
The 16-year-old was reportedly trying to cross the train tracks when the MetroRail hit the tail end of his truck. He was taken to the hospital by a family member to be checked out.
Police cited the teen for failure to yield the right of way at a railroad crossing.
A 64-year-old man was injured after falling from a CapMetro train bridge early that evening after he was hit by the train.
Austin-Travis County EMS workers first believed the injured man either jumped from the bridge or was blown off by turbulence from the train. However, CapMetro spokeswoman Misty Whited said the man was hit by the train.
This marked the first collision with a pedestrian since the MetroRail launched its service, and it was the second wreck for the MetroRail since launching.
Whited said that while the entire rail is a no-trespassing area, the man was on a single-track bridge. The train was traveling southbound at 40 mph.
The incident happened at Adelphi Lane and Waters Park Road, near Parmer Lane in Northwest Austin.
The man was awake and alert when the medical crew arrived, and he had multiple leg fractures.
Paramedics transported the man to Round Rock Hospital.
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