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2018-05-16 / Featured / News

Teachers, friends mourn loss of teens hit by train

BY RICH GRISET STAFF WRITER


Presley Trent, 13, and Samuel Rivas, 18, were killed by an Amtrak train last week in Chester. 
JENNY MCQUEEN Presley Trent, 13, and Samuel Rivas, 18, were killed by an Amtrak train last week in Chester. JENNY MCQUEEN Tragedy befell Chester last week when two teenagers were struck and killed by an Amtrak train.

At about 5 p.m. on May 9, Presley A. Trent, 13, and Samuel W. Rivas, 18, were with a group of friends near Chester Village when they were struck by the train. Trent and Rivas were standing on a set of tracks watching a passing freight train, seemingly unaware of the oncoming Amtrak train.

“They weren’t paying attention to the striking train, which was the Amtrak train,” said Chesterfield Police Lt. John Miller, who reviewed video footage taken from one of the trains. “From looking at the video, it appears they didn’t know to get out of the way.”

Through interviews with the conductor of the Amtrak train, police learned that the freight train attempted to alert the Amtrak train with light signals, but it was too late.

“He didn’t have the time or the distance to safely bring it to a stop,” Miller said.

A statement from Amtrak reads that the accident occurred at milepost 12.3 in Chester, and that Amtrak police are working with county police in the investigation. None of the Amtrak Palmetto 90 train’s 123 passengers or crew were injured in the incident.

Trent, of the 10800 block of Erin Green Court, was on her way to softball practice at the time of the incident. Teachers describe her as a lively, outgoing presence who would pull stunts like falling out of her chair to make her classmates laugh.

Kelly Adams, Trent’s life science teacher at Elizabeth Davis Middle, said the seventh grader loved longboarding, softball and being outside.

“She was very dearly loved by both the students and the teachers,” Adams said. “She wasn’t just that sweet little kid that’s really quiet in the back. You knew when she came into the room. She just had this amazing personality. She was like a light, wherever she went.”

Trent’s parents declined a request for an interview. John Earley, who lives across the street from the Trents, said the family had recently moved to the Erin Green neighborhood and seemed very active, and often had kids over to play. “Everyone in this neighborhood is real heartbroke,” Earley said. “We didn’t know them real well, but it’s such a sad thing.”

Next-door neighbor Steve Hairfield said he often speaks to the Trents over their backyard fence.

“They’re excellent neighbors,” Hairfield said. “I’ve really enjoyed their company. I don’t think that anyone could dislike them.”

Though he didn’t know Presley Trent well, Hairfield was sad to hear the news.

“To be so young is just a damn shame,” he said. “She was just starting her life.”

Rivas, of the 13600 block of Quail Hollow Lane in Brandermill, attended Clover Hill High, and had previously attended Thomas Dale High. The Observer was unable to contact Rivas’ teachers; the school system, which granted access to Trent’s teachers after gaining permission from her parents, was unable to get permission from Rivas’ parents by press time.

A neighbor of Rivas who requested anonymity said his family had moved to the neighborhood recently. Rivas had plans to enter the Marine Corps in June, the neighbor said. Rivas’ father, Edward Rivas III, was killed on March 3 after being struck by a passing car on Hull Street Road at 1:30 a.m.

The teenagers’ deaths come just two months after the Federal Railroad Administration reported that train-related fatalities experienced a ten-year high in 2017. According to the FRA, 864 people died from train-related incidents last year in the United States; 553 of those deaths involved trespassing.

Libby Rector Snipe, spokeswoman for rail safety nonprofit Operation Lifesaver Inc., says her organization is “extremely concerned” about the rise in trespassing deaths and injuries. Organization officials believe that some of the rise can be attributed to the growing prevalence of mobile devices and earbuds, which can distract people walking on the tracks.

“We know that there are also situations where people underestimated the speed of the train,” she said. “We urge people to take extreme caution whenever they’re near the tracks.”

Last Saturday, dozens of Trent’s friends and family gathered at the football field behind Elizabeth Davis Middle to release balloons in remembrance of her. The balloon send-off was organized by Tracy Sorbello, whose twins, Drew and Alex, were friends and classmates of Trent.

“She made everything so much fun. Kids loved her personality and being around her,” said Sorbello, a special education teacher at Marguerite Christian Elementary. “It was very peaceful. Everyone was quiet, and we just watched the balloons go into the air until they disappeared.” ¦

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