Emergency workers help a woman who was struck by an Amtrak train on the West River Bridge and fell 25 feet to the rocks below.(Zachary P.
Emergency workers help a woman who was struck by an Amtrak train on the West River Bridge and fell 25 feet to the rocks below. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
Thursday May 2, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Police have released the name of a woman who was struck by a train April 19 at the West River railroad bridge.

The victim was identified as Kimberly Saunders in a police report that had been requested by the Reformer. Police previously had identified the woman only as a 47-year-old Brattleboro resident.

Saunders was transported to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H. after the 12:34 p.m. accident. On Wednesday, the hospital did not respond to an inquiry about Saunders' status.

In the investigation report released Wednesday, Brattleboro police Sgt. Mark Carignan said Saunders was "conscious, breathing and able to talk" in the moments after she fell about 25 feet from the bridge to the rocky ground below.

"She appeared to be significantly injured, including bleeding from a wound to her forehead," Carignan wrote. "Her legs appeared bent at an unnatural angle, and I saw blood on her right arm."

A doctor who was a passenger on the southbound train volunteered to help, arriving at the patient just before Rescue Inc. did, Carignan wrote.

The police report includes accounts from several witnesses including an Amtrak maintenance employee who happened to be driving on Putney Road when he saw a woman walking north on the tracks.

The employee told police that "he knew a southbound train would be coming soon, so he tried to call the train on the radio," Carignan wrote. "As he did this, he saw the train coming."

The witness said "he saw the train pass the woman and was not sure if it struck her or if she fell."

That question was answered by the train's two-man engineering crew, consisting of an engineer and a fireman. The fireman, who was at the controls when the accident happened, said the train was traveling about 59 mph and had rounded a left curve when he spotted Saunders preparing to cross the bridge.

"He immediately sounded the horn and the woman moved to the right (her left) and crossed the rail," Carignan wrote.

The fireman "said the front of the train missed the woman, but he looked into the rearview mirror and saw that the lead passenger car struck her," the police report says. "He was not sure if it struck the large purse she was carrying or her body. In either case, the woman was knocked off the west side of the bridge."

The fireman applied emergency-stop brakes and notified Amtrak dispatch that there had been an accident. The train stopped a short distance down the tracks.

The engineer told police that, just before the incident, his train had "cleared the signals" -- meaning that there were no northbound trains preparing to cross the single-lane West River railroad bridge.

Neither the engineer nor the fireman "showed any signs of impairment," Carignan wrote. Both said they had not consumed any alcohol or drugs that day and also said they are randomly tested by their employer.

In addition to measuring the height of Saunders' fall, Carignan wrote that he also confirmed that the track "does have a sharp left curve just before the bridge that limits visibility of the south side of the bridge."

Carignan's report includes one other witness account: A few hours after the incident, a woman contacted police to say she had been driving on Putney Road around 12:30 p.m.

The driver said she had noticed a blond woman walking on the sidewalk on the west side of Putney Road.

"The woman turned and looked at her car as it approached," Carignan's report says, quoting the driver's account. "The woman then turned away ... and stepped off the sidewalk directly in front of" the southbound vehicle.

The driver "had to slam on her brakes and swerve in order to avoid striking the woman," Carignan wrote, adding that the driver "was concerned that the woman had stepped in front of her on purpose."

While the report does not say specifically identify that pedestrian as Saunders, Carignan said he subsequently contacted Dartmouth-Hitchcock to relay that information "so they could make whatever arrangements were appropriate regarding her mental-health treatment."

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.