Brittney Silva was doing what her family said she always did to blow off steam, walking along the railroad tracks near her home while listening to music or talking on her cell phone using her earbuds.

But on Monday evening, the San Leandro High School senior was apparently so absorbed that she didn't hear an oncoming train.

Silva, 18, died just before 6 p.m. Monday when an Amtrak passenger train hit her near the intersection of Hesperian Boulevard and Springlake Drive. The earbuds, connected to a pink cell phone, may have prevented her from hearing the train or a bystander who tried to warn her, police said.

"I can't believe she's gone," her mother Cynthia Silva said Tuesday, her eyes heavy and red. "She was my best friend."

Brittney Silva. (Photo from San Leandro High School)
Brittney Silva. (Photo from San Leandro High School)

Silva's mother lives in a four-unit apartment building about 75 feet from the tracks where her daughter was hit. She said that Brittney Silva loved music, dancing and roller coasters.

"I bought her a season pass to Six Flags every year," her mother said as she held the hand of Brittney's younger sister, 11-year-old Melody.

Cynthia Silva had been running an errand on Monday when her husband Brian Crist called to let her know that someone had been hit on the tracks near their home.

When she returned home, emergency crews initially told her the person hit was male, but news soon followed that the victim was a teenage girl.

"I started screaming, 'Where's Brittney?'" she said. "I called her phone. She didn't answer."


Advertisement

Eventually law enforcement came to her and asked if her daughter had a tattoo of the Bay Bridge on her back. A new bank card from a recently opened account and the teenager's identification were also found near the tracks.

Grief counselors were on campus Tuesday at San Leandro High, where Silva was a senior active in the drama program and preparing to graduate in a couple weeks. School officials said she was one of the top students in her class and had been accepted to Chabot College, Humboldt State University and University of California, Santa Cruz.

Family and friends say the teen dreamed of becoming a marine biologist or a doctor.

"Every time she got an acceptance letter, she did a little dance," Silva's grandmother, Yolanda Payne said. "Life was good, and she was going for it with all she had."

In the end, she had picked Chabot. Her younger sister Melody said she'd just received her class schedule in the mail.

Assistant Principal Elisa Alvarez described Silva as hilarious, incredibly lively and energetic.

"She was always smiling," she said of the teen. "She was her family's rock. She chose Chabot so she could commute to and from school and be home with her mom and sister."

Investigators say that the teen apparently was wearing ear buds, but they haven't been able to determine whether she was listening to music or talking on the phone.

"Her mom told her a kajillion times to leave one earbud out," Payne said Tuesday. "She just didn't, and she just didn't see (the train)."

Payne, who called her granddaughter a well-grounded teenager, said that shortly before the incident, Silva had argued on the phone with someone, and went to take a walk, her method of coping and blowing off steam.

Family described Silva a protective older sibling. She picked Melody up from school every day at Thomas Jefferson Elementary, where she attends fifth-grade. If she couldn't find Melody, her grandmother said, she went into big-sister frenzy mode.

"When I was down she'd always cheer me up," said Melody, a girl with sparkling green eyes and long brown hair. "She gave me great advice. She was really fun. She was very pretty."

Her big sister, she said, was just hired at a local yogurt store and was saving money for school. Her love of music consisted of hip hop and rap.

"We always danced together," Melody said, holding a small picture of her sister while standing outside their home. "I'll carry this with me all the time now."

The sisters' grandmother said Melody hasn't cried yet.

"The poor thing doesn't know what's really happened yet," Payne said. "It hasn't hit her."

Silva's best friend, Samara Lopez, broke down outside the home on Tuesday as she held Melody in her arms. As an upcoming graduation present, Lopez said she planned to take Silva to Walt Disney World in Orlando.

"She was trying to figure out a way to go because she didn't know if she could leave her family," Lopez, 18, said through tears.

Officers found the southbound train stopped on the tracks a few hundred yards south of the intersection and found Silva's body 50 yards south of the intersection. Witnesses told police the teen was walking south on Hesperian and wearing earbud-style headphones. As the train approached the intersection, one of the witnesses yelled to her about the approaching train but she didn't respond, police said.

Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham said the train that hit Silva was the No. 543, headed from Sacramento to San Jose and that the collision was reported at 5:55 p.m. The four-car train with a locomotive was carrying 80 passengers and was likely going about 79 miles per hour, the speed allowed in that area, she said.

Police said the railroad crossing arms were functioning properly at the time of the collision.

None of the passengers were injured, she said. The train's conductor and crew were granted relief from their duties, Graham said, and the passengers were put on a train that arrived behind the one involved in the collision.

A candlelight vigil is set for 8 p.m. Wednesday outside San Leandro High School.

Silva's family is trying to raise funds her funeral. To help, donate to account No. 595800058 at any Chase branch.

Staff writers Rick Hurd and Kristin J. Bender contributed to this story. Contact Natalie Neysa Alund at 510-293-2469 and follow her at Twitter.com/nataliealund. Contact Rick Hurd at 925-945-4789 and follow him at Twitter.com/3rderh.