Washington Street trolley stop in Middletown
The family of a 79-year-old Chinese immigrant who was struck and killed by a speeding Amtrak train near Little Italy in February of this year has filed legal claims against MTS, the city and county.
The claims, which I obtained through a public records request, were filed on behalf of the man, Wentian Zheng, his wife who witnessed the accident, and another family member.
According to the claim and news reports, Wentian Zheng and his family were returning from Zheng’s first immigration interview on February 18, just after 4 pm. They exited the trolley at Washington Street in Middletown, and crossed in front of the trolley on their way to catch a bus. As he crossed the southbound track, an Amtrak train traveling at nearly 50 miles per hour struck and killed Zheng.
According to the claim, it was the second time a person had died at that location by an Amtrak train since 2014.
The multiple deaths at the location, alleges the legal notice, shows that local transit and municipal employees failed to address what was a dangerous condition for pedestrians.
“The city of San Diego had actual and constructive notice regarding prior complaints and the requirement to have additional safety features, signage, maintenance, and repairs at the subject location,” reads the July 20, 2020 legal claim. “Unfortunately, the city chose to not follow the requirements, and allowed the subject location to remain in a dangerous condition.”
Attorneys for the Zheng family claim local transportation officials had been aware that signs had been posted at the location after the 2014 pedestrian fatality. They were, according to the claim, ineffective and the timing of the trolley stop and the departing Amtrak trains presented significant public safety issues.
“...This signage did not resolve the safety issues with the subject location and/or the dangers its agents caused by dropping trolley passengers off moments before an Amtrak train was scheduled to pass.”
The Federal Railroad Administration attributed Zheng’s death to his decision to illegally cross the railroad tracks after he disembarked the trolley.
According to a summary from the Federal Railroad Administration, Zheng “darted out from behind a wall at the crossing separating trolley station from Main Track 1.”
Data from the administration reveals that from January 1, 2020, through September 1, 2020, there were six collisions with pedestrians on San Diego County railroad tracks. The previous year, the federal agency documented four collisions countywide with pedestrians, three of which were fatal.