SAN LEANDRO -- It has happened in San Bruno, San Jose and now in San Leandro. Teenagers wearing headphones and apparently absorbed by music or conversation on cell phones are killed by a train they likely never heard or saw.

Experts say it's a growing concern, and offered stern warning to the public Tuesday that distractions near railroad crossing add risk to an already potentially dangerous situation.

The advice is simple: do not trespass on railroad property, do not walk on the tracks, and do not try to go around a crossing gate. When the gates go down, a train typically arrives in seconds, railroad officials said.

"You cannot beat a train," said Vernae Graham, a spokeswoman for Amtrak. "Your odds are stacked against you."

Flowers and candles are seen at a memorial to a girl who was killed by a train in San Leandro, Calif. on Tuesday, May 20, 2014. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay
Flowers and candles are seen at a memorial to a girl who was killed by a train in San Leandro, Calif. on Tuesday, May 20, 2014. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

The call for increased safety came in the wake of Monday's fatality in San Leandro. Brittney Silva, 18, was killed by an Amtrak train just before 6 p.m. Investigators said Silva, a senior at San Leandro High School three weeks away from graduating, was wearing earbuds at the time she was hit, likely preventing her from hearing the train, and the bystander who tried to warn her.

While the Federal Railroad Administration does not keep statistics on the number of deaths involving cell phones or headphones, a railroad advocacy group says it's a rising problem.

"Earbuds and texting are huge issues not only in railroad safety but vehicular highway safety," said Pete Aadland, California's coordinator for Operation Lifesaver, a national organization tracking railroad deaths since 1972. "It's an increasing problem."


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Recent examples include 16-year-old Donae James Johnican, a guitar player and songwriter attending Lincoln High School in San Jose, who was wearing headphones when he was hit and killed by a passenger train on Caltrain tracks in March 2013. In another Caltrain fatality in 2008, 15-year-old Anthony Rea of South San Francisco was hit in San Bruno while skateboarding and listening to music with his headphones at full blast, a witness said at the time.

Robin Potter, 44, lost her 14-year-old son in 2008 when he decided to play a game of "chicken" with a train in Fresno. Potter said people, especially children, don't realize that a train is wider than it appears and is moving much faster than it appears. Once a train operator spots a person on the tracks and hits the brakes, it can take the length of 18 football fields before the train comes to a complete stop, Potter said.

"The kids think they are invincible, that they will beat the train. They don't realize how close it is and how fast it's going." The train operator has "no steering wheel" to swerve out of the way, she added.

Lamenting the loss of her son, Shawn, she said: "He jumped one second too late."

David DeBolt covers breaking news. Contact him in Richmond at 510-262-2728. Follow him at Twitter.com/daviddebolt.