During Strike, Feds Investigate Deaths of 2 BART Workers
Federal authorities launched an inquiry Sunday into the deaths of two Bay Area Rapid Transit workers who were struck by a train in the midst of a tense labor walkout that has disrupted travel for hundreds of thousands of commuters.
Investigators for the National Transportation Safety Board will try to determine what went wrong on the BART line in Walnut Creek where the two workers were hit Saturday afternoon as they inspected the track for defects, officials said.
The deaths brought heartbreak to the labor dispute that had simmered for several months before triggering the strike Friday by a pair of unions.
"We are hurting because we are family here," said BART employee Nucion Avent, tears streaming down his face as he addressed about 100 people who gathered Sunday evening in a candlelight vigil for the dead workers.
Officials did not release the names of the victims, but colleagues identified them as BART employee Christopher Sheppard, of Hayward, and Larry Daniels, a contractor from Oakland. CBS in San Francisco said Sheppard was a senior track manager who was looking forward to retiring in a couple of years.
The employees at the vigil hugged one another, observed a moment of silence and prayed. Some were dressed in their BART uniforms and others in union T-shirts. Several questioned whether the deaths were due to managers filling in for better-trained workers.
"It was a preventable accident," said Richard Stingily, a foreman and former train operator who has worked for BART for 23 years. "This is senseless and ridiculous."
With service halted on the sprawling rail network, political leaders and others called on BART and union negotiators to settle the strike before it plunges the region into turmoil, beginning with Monday morning's commute.
"This weekend was shocking and tragic," said Christine Falvey, spokeswoman for San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, who was cutting short a trip to China and South Korea because of the strike and the deaths.
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said in a Facebook post that the "it's more than time to compromise" to get the roughly 2,300 employees back on the job. "The impact on the Bay Area economy and stranded workers is too costly."
BART carries 400,000 round-trip passengers each workday. San Francisco deployed extra buses and traffic officers in preparation for the expected crunch.
There was no official indication that the strike was a factor in the deaths, but NTSB lead investigator Jim Southworth said the inquiry would examine the possible effects of the walkout.