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West Jordan train victim didn't go around crossing arm

Published June 10, 2011 1:00 pm

TRAX • Fatal accident site is "a blind spot" for pedestrians, her father says.
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West Jordan • A 15-year-old girl struck and killed by a Utah Transit Authority test-line train did not walk around a crossing arm — there wasn't one to go around — and her view of an oncoming westbound train was blocked by a sound wall.

Ken Casper, and others gathered at the accident site Thursday, said the death of his daughter, Shariah, is a painful illustration that pedestrians face a hazard crossing the tracks at 8600 South. The area is a newly approved quiet zone where trains cannot sound their horns.

"It's not safe," Ken Casper said. "It's a blind spot."

Shariah and her cousin were walking home after buying ice cream at Macey's Wednesday when the accident occurred, said her father. The girls were walking south on a sidewalk along the east side of 3200 West when they came to the tracks at 8600 South.

A 12-foot concrete sound wall runs along the tracks as they approach 3200 West, creating an obstruction so that pedestrians cannot see westbound oncoming trains. The crossing arm for southbound traffic on the north side of the tracks crosses only the southbound auto lanes and does not go across the sidewalk.

Wednesday just before 3 p.m., the girls waited as an eastbound train went by. They then walked onto the tracks just as a westbound train they did not see was coming through the intersection, West Jordan police said.

Shariah's cousin and best friend, Acacia Marie Karr, 15, was with her when she was killed. The moment felt like "she slipped through my fingers," Karr said Thursday.

The two were walking back to Shariah's West Jordan home, where she lived with her dad, when they came to the crossing.

"I tried to jump in front and save her but it came so fast," Karr said. "It was like a blink of an eye before it hit her and then after when she went flying, it went slow motion."

Rodney Karr, father of Acacia Karr, said the two girls were having a great day Wednesday before they decided to take a chance.

"A chance kids would take. And it caught up to one of them," he said. "Unfortunately, there was the wall that blocked her view."

Rodney Karr said his daughter keeps replaying the scene in her head and the family has set up counseling appointments for her.

Area resident Aimee Peterson, who reached the intersection moments after the accident Wednesday, said change is needed as the sidewalk along 3200 West is a popular route for youngsters who walk to and from schools in the area.

"They need to fix this before it happens again," Peterson said.

UTA has been testing the trains on the Mid-Jordan line since May 16, said UTA spokesman Chad Saley, who added that east and west lines were being tested around the same time. There are no crossing arms for pedestrians, UTA's Gerry Carpenter confirmed Thursday.

"We are considering ways to make that intersection safer," he said. "At this point, I can't say what solutions may occur. It meets all legal requirements."

Although TRAX light-rail trains are approved to ply the line at 65 mph, Carpenter said at the time of the accident, the train was moving about 40 mph.

Acacia Karr and the rest of Shariah's loved ones are left with sadness and memories.

"I remember being kids and giggling and laughing with each other," Karr said Thursday. "Her last breath was spent with me, and that is something I will cherish forever."

Dozens of youngsters gathered Thursday at the intersection, where flowers, balloons and posters paid tribute to Shariah. She had just completed the ninth grade at Joel P. Jensen Middle School.

Shariah's father joined them and said his daughter was outgoing and made friends easily.

"She was very active and very well-liked," Ken Casper said. "She played softball and danced. We were just finishing up softball season and she was looking forward to spending time with her mother, who lives in Farmington."

Casper described his daughter as a thoughtful and giving person who wanted to help the less fortunate.

"This world has no idea on what we just missed out on," he said. "Her goal was to become a trauma doctor. She wanted to be in a position to help people."

He said he would dedicate himself to making TRAX intersections safer. "I will be a strong advocate to make sure this doesn't happen to any other kids," he said.

Testing on the 8600 South line will resume Monday. Safety personnel will be on site at the intersections of 2200 West, 2700 West and 3200 West, Carpenter said.

Residents in the area say they are not used to the new TRAX line and the traffic signal at 8600 South on 3200 West. The line is set to open Aug. 7.

Rebecca Payton lives half a block from the tracks. She said notices were sent to families living in the area about the test line, but the new line still isn't something people are familiar with, and they haven't gotten used to a train running past every 15 minutes. A Union Pacific rail line parallels the UTA line, but trains run on that line only in the early morning hours. "This [train] is blowing past an intersection without a light or a horn," Payton said. "It is just scary. It is a family neighborhood."

Rodney Karr on Thursday referred to his niece, Shariah, as a protector who stuck up for those who couldn't stand up for themselves. "She was always a smart-ass and I will miss her smile," he said. "She was anti-drug, anti-alcohol. She had a really good head on her shoulders."


rorellana@sltrib.com —

How to help

Donations can be made to the family of Shariah Casper under the names of Ken A. Casper and Sherrell Cluff at University Credit Union, 8900 S. Redwood Road, West Jordan. For information or questions, call bank manager Elizabeth Larson at 801-481-8800.






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