Of the 31 pedestrian-related deaths involving Metrolink trains in 2012, three happened on the Ventura County line that runs through Northridge and Chatsworth, authorities told Patch.
That compares to 16 in 2011, said Scott Johnson, a spokesman for Metrolink, which covers 512 miles of track on seven different lines through six Southern California counties.
The latest fatality occurred around 5 p.m. on Dec. 28 at the Wilbur Avenue railroad crossing in Northridge near Reseda Boulevard and claimed the life of Ernest “EJ” Jewel Burns III, a 46-year-old, life-long Valley resident.
Long-time friends described Burns, a graduate of John F. Kennedy High School in Granada Hills who just returned from Missouri visiting relatives, as “larger than life, tall and handsome with an ability to make people feel special with his unique humor, openness and the nickname he decided to call you,” said Bonnie Hanoch.
“He was incredibly intelligent. Ernie was a proud American, knew all of the presidents and their policies,” Hanoch said. “He loved Elvis. He was an American history buff with in-depth knowledge [of] military objectives, dates, wars [and] battles fought within that war. He spoke so fluid and fast with knowledge it was a lesson in history to listen to him.”
Hanoch said one of his most cherished possessions is a memorial flag from his father's military funeral.
"He'll be deeply missed and he will never be forgotten," she said.
Anna Turco, 44 of Sherman Oaks, met Burns in 1993.
Turco once dated Burns, a successful Realtor in the Chatsworth area, for a short time, but broke it off because of his battle with alcohol.
“He was known for his love of baseball, Elvis, The Outback, Las Vegas, golden retrievers, Durango and trains. One thing about Ernie was he had a memory of an elephant,” Turco said. “He was a wise man, introspective, intuitive, gave excellent advice and was able to laugh at life's ironies. Although Ernie had incremental periods of sobriety, he struggled with a life-long alcohol addiction only to finally lose that battle.”
Turco said his wife divorced him because of his addiction and he leaves behind two surviving sisters, Marlene Powell and Rosina Burns-Cariveau.
“Ernie's recent trip to Mountain View, MO, where his sister Marlene lives, was his final attempt at sobriety just before his demise. His legacy of fond memories will never be forgotten, and the gifts he brought to this world will be greatly missed,” Turco said.
Turco said his sister told her the Metrolink video shows Burns lying on the train tracks, lifting his head to look at the train and then putting his head back down.
“I don’t know if he possibly changed his mind, or too drunk to move,” Turco said. “He was suicidal. He told me if he killed himself it would take care of everything. I believed I’d get the call [one day], but I was shocked how it happened.”
Metrolink spokesman Johnson said there was a forward-facing camera on the train that hit Burns, but he was not familiar with its content. He said the video was handed over to the police.
Metrolink investigates its role in pedestrian-related deaths by examining whether the equipment was working properly, such as the brakes, gate
crossings and other elements related to the rail and train.
"Mr. Burns died in a non-pedestrian area," Johnson said. "There was very little Metrolink could have done to prevent this accident. Our thoughts and
condolences go out to the families of the victims, the Metrolink passengers on those trains, the staff, engineers and conductors ... these tragedies affect hundreds of people."
Officer Jennifer Ward of the Los Angeles Police Department Valley Traffic Division said she knew of a video but hadn’t viewed it. Ward said the investigation into Burns’ death remains open.
“(Burns) was obviously id[entified] the next day. [There are] no crimes
connected with that train collision,” Ward said, adding it was unclear where
Burns had been living since recently returning from Missouri.
Burn’s case was just examined on Dec. 30 by the Department of Coroner, County of Los Angeles.
“The tox[icology test] is not complete yet,” said spokesman Craig Harvey, adding that the results will take about 90 days to complete.
Metrolink, along with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and other agencies, has increased its efforts to remove homeless encampments from rail right-of-ways along the Ventura County and Antelope Valley lines, Johnson said.
“Transients live underneath freeway overpasses and bridges, in thick vegetation, in loosely constructed structures next to tracks and on adjacent property. To make certain the homeless simply do not return after authorities leave the area, the L.A. County Department of Social Services provides options for those affected,” he added. “Also, police departments’ homeless population liaisons continue to monitor the situation and work with those in need.”
The other two non-pedestrian area deaths on the Ventura County line happened on July 3 near Coldwalter Canyon Boulevard, and Dec. 6 under the Nordhoff Street bridge in Northridge in an apparent suicide.