A Texas teenager died on Friday after being struck by a train while posing for photographs on train tracks.
The crew aboard the Union Pacific train saw Fredzania Thompson, 19, and the photographer on the tracks but could not stop in time, railroad officials said.
The train — 110 cars hauling grain through Navasota, Texas — hit Thompson. She was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
“Apparently, there was a photo session being held on the tracks,” Union Pacific spokesman Jeff DeGraff told The Navasota Examiner.
“As the train approached, the crew saw the photographer and the other individual on the tracks, alerted them with the train horn and also began the emergency stopping process on the train.”
Local media reported that Thompson graduated from Navasota High in 2015 and was living in College Station at the time of her death.
“She was a beautiful young lady. I love her mother and grandmother and I just hate to hear this happened,” family friend Joe McNeal Sr. told KBTX in Bryan, Texas.
A Union Pacific spokesman told KBTX trains typically travel 50 miles an hour through downtown Navasota. The photo session was being held between two sets of tracks, the town’s assistant city manager, Shawn Myatt, told the Examiner.
“Basically, you have two railroad tracks there, one is Burlington Northern to the west and one is Union Pacific to the east, and she was in between the two tracks,” said Myatt.
“Burlington Northern had a train on their track coming and she turned back to the east to walk across the Union Pacific track and walked right in front of the Union Pacific train that was heading south.”
Her death caught the attention of photographers, some of whom issued words of caution to their colleagues online.
“Of course, artists are often willing to put their own health and safety at risk in order to capture once-in-a-lifetime images, and can often be found jumping from airplanes, swimming with sharks, or dodging bullets in war-torn countries,” Colorado photographer Nicole York wrote for FStoppers, a website for photographers and videographers.
But Thompson’s death brings up a moral dilemma for working professionals, York wrote.
“Does a professional photographer have a responsibility to counsel against and/or refuse their clients portrait sessions in places of known danger?” she pondered, noting that train tracks continue to be a popular backdrop.
“One has to wonder when the cost of taking portraits on railroad tracks will finally become too high,” York wrote.
She pointed out the September 2015 death of 16-year-old John DeReggi, who was struck by a train in Montgomery County, Md., while taking photos on train tracks with his girlfriend. It was a popular spot for kids to take their photos, according to the Washington Post.
When an Amtrak train came upon them DeReggi didn’t get out of the way in time. The train, estimated to be going more than 70 miles an hour, was likely traveling faster than he realized, the Post reported.
“There’s very little clickety clack. They can really sneak up on you,” Robert Halstead, president of IronWood Technologies, a firm that reconstructs train accidents, told the Post.
Recognizing the growing popularity of senior pictures and selfies taken track-side, Union Pacific two years ago created a set of jarring cautionary public service announcements.
“We get it. The ongoing pursuit of the perfect selfie is just as much about the background as it is striking the right pose. You’re capturing a moment,” says one of the warnings on the Union Pacific website’s photo safety page.
“And in some places — like dinner, a concert, or even enjoying the great outdoors — it’s a great idea! But on railroad tracks? Not so much. It’s not just illegal; it can be deadly.”
After Thompson’s death, Union Pacific’s spokesman DeGraff told the Examiner that people who think they are quick enough to get out of the way of a moving train are wrong.
“We encourage people to stay away from train tracks, we reach out to numerous communities, including their photographing community, to explain how dangerous it is to try to take pictures on the railroad tracks and things like that,” said DeGraff.
Police from both the town and Union Pacific are investigating the accident.