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Police suspect suicides by train
VRE no-fatality streak ends after 20 years when two people in less than a month step in front of the commuter system's trains


Date published: 11/9/2012

BY SCOTT SHENK

The Virginia Railway Express went 20 years without a fatal rail incident, but in the past month two people have stepped onto the tracks in front of the commuter trains and perished.

It looks like both were suicides.

The most-recent incident happened Monday evening when, according to police, a 44-year-old Woodbridge man stepped onto the tracks and was run down by Fredericksburg-bound train 311 near Cherry Hill Road in Dumfries.

"We're leaning toward it being a suicide, but haven't confirmed that yet," said Officer Jonathan Perok with the Prince William County Police Department.

According to the department's incident report, the man "was seen standing on the tracks as a VRE train was approaching. The victim did not move out of the train's path and was subsequently struck."

The incident, which happened at about 7 p.m., stranded hundreds of Fredericksburg-area VRE riders for hours as train traffic was stopped through the area.

The other incident unfolded much the same way, with the victim stepping onto the tracks in front of a VRE train.

At about 2 p.m. on Oct. 10, 24-year-old Michael Mueller of Fairfax was hit by a train in what Fairfax County police consider a suicide, said department spokesman Eddy Azcarate.

According to a release from the department, the conductor saw the man standing next to the tracks. Then "the train operator blew his horn and the man stepped on the tracks with his back to the train."

On VRE's monthly online forum Wednesday, officials talked about the sad loss of life.

"Unfortunately, it resulted in a fatality," the officials wrote in response to a question about Monday's incident. "The second in a month's time for VRE and those are the first in our history. We hope to revert back to the previous trend; 20 years of no fatalities."

There was also a third recent rail fatality in the area involving a person being struck by a train.

Spotsylvania's Charles Hollowell was hit by an Amtrak train on Oct. 17.

Police said the 74-year-old was crossing the tracks along Benchmark Road in Spotsylvania when he was hit.

The cause of the incident is under investigation by the Spotsylvania Sheriff's Office.

"It appears the victim was crossing the tracks at a bend in the tracks and was unaware of the approaching train," Capt. Mike Harvey told The Free Lance-Star shortly after the incident.

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436
Email: sshenk@freelancestar.com