Friends and family of a 15-year-old boy struck and killed by a train near the San Bruno Caltrain station Saturdayevening describe the event as a tragic accident, although transit officials continue to investigate.
On Sunday, the San Mateo County coroner's office identified Anthony Rea of South San Francisco as the victim of a rail crossing incident at the San Bruno Caltrain station about 5:35 p.m. Saturday. Train service was stopped for more than an hour after Rea, a freshman at El Camino High School, was killed.
Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunn said Sunday that a Caltrain engineer observed Rea trespassing on the southbound railroad tracks moments before the collision. "He went around a lowered gate," Dunn said.
The San Mateo County Sheriff's Transit Operations Division is investigating the circumstances surrounding the incident, Dunn said. The San Mateo County Coroner's Office is also investigating whether Rea's death was accidental.
One of Rea's best friends, 14-year-old Patrick Legaspi, witnessed the death of his friend and described it as a horrific accident. He said they had just disembarked from a northbound train with a third friend after a day of skateboarding in San Mateo. They ignored the lowered gate and warning lights and started across the pedestrian crossing to get to the other side of the tracks.
"There was this gate that tells us not to go when there were trains — we just went around it," recalled Legaspi on Sunday, speaking by telephone. "When he saw the train left, he just got on the board and started riding. I guess he didn't see the other train coming, and it just hit him."
Legaspi said Rea didn't hear the southbound train approach because he was listening to music through his headphones at full blast.
"When he was right on the tracks I tried to get him, but he was kind of far out of my reach. I was shouting at him, telling him to stop, but he didn't hearme," said Legaspi.
"He was a very funny and cool friend."
Saturday's death is the fifth Caltrain fatality this year. In 2007, the agency recorded eight deaths, far below the 17 deaths of 2006.
High school friends of Rea's spent several hours Sunday consoling Rea's mother, grandmother and older sister at their home on El Camino Real. Longtime neighbor Gina Tandra said the family was devastated and that she and some other neighbors were chipping in to pay for the funeral, to be held later this week at the Garden Chapel Funeral Home in South San Francisco. A bank account is being created for donations to the family, she added.
"I was hoping that people outside the area could donate because the family is low income," she said.
The news came as such a blow to Amparo Estaban, Rea's grandmother, that she was rushed to the hospital at 4 a.m. Sunday, said Tandra. She has since returned home.
"And his mother keeps saying, 'I don't want to eat anything until my son comes home.' She's lying there in denial. She can't function."
"I'm not feeling well," Estaban said, reached for comment Sunday. She could not answer any questions.
Tandra said Rea loved skateboarding and was always surrounded by friends.
"He wanted to be a mechanic and wanted to take care of this family, because he was the only male of the house," she said. "He was a very friendly kid. Everybody knew him. He had a very natural look on his face like he was smiling all the time."
Additional reporting by Leslie Griffy. Reach Julia Scott at 650-348-4340.