Fresno police booked a woman on felony child neglect charges Tuesday after her 8-year-old daughter was killed by a train near downtown Fresno.
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The girl, Joy Anna Harris, died Monday evening under the wheels of a Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight car after Joy Frances Collins, 44, told the girl and her 9-year-old brother to crawl under the idling train so that the family would not miss a bus taking them home, said Chief Jerry Dyer. Collins ordered her children to endanger themselves in a similar fashion at least seven times previously, he added in a news conference.
Joy Anna died just before 6 p.m. at North Diana Street and East Belmont Avenue as the family was traveling to a bus stop west of the tracks. The freight train slowed, and then stopped, blocking their path, and Dyer said Collins told the children to rush to the stop at North Abby Street and Belmont. The boy crossed through the train first, but Dyer said his sister was reluctant to follow. Collins reportedly shouted, “Hurry up.”
When Joy Anna tried to cross, the train lurched and the girl became trapped and was pulled south about 500 feet as Collins ran behind in desperation. Collins reached her daughter and pulled her from the freight, but she was dead of traumatic injuries.
Detectives determined that Collins was negligent, based on witness statements, the darkness of the area at the time, and the reluctance of Joy Anna to follow her mother’s orders.
Dyer said Fresno County Child Protective Services has had prior contact with Collins.
Neighbors hear screams
The death of Joy Anna was traumatic, not just for the family, but also for residents of the neighborhood.
James Whitehead and Christy Miller live in a home just feet from the tracks, and have for about two years.
Monday evening, Miller heard what sounded as though a child might be caught near the wheels of the big freight that was stopped nearby.
“There’s a kid on the tracks!” she shouted to Whitehead, who knew that the train was stopped. But then, he heard the couplers that connect freight cars banging together as the engines pulled up the slack.
It sounded like “ca-chuck, ca-chuck, ca-chuck.,” he said.
Then, both Whitehead and Miller heard screams and shouting. Without pausing, Whitehead vaulted a six-foot fence that separates the couples’ yard from the tracks and began sprinting.
“Where’s the kid! Where’s the kid!” he said to himself. He dashed south along the tracks as the train began to roll.
“Too late,” he thought, as he reached Belmont.
He saw Joy Anna’s tiny body.
Tuesday morning, the couple stood in their backyard. Miller repeatedly rubbed tears from her eyes.
“I’m so depressed,” she said. “I don’t know what to do.”
Said Whitehead: “We’ve seen five or six people die on the tracks here, but never a kid.”
Build a fence?
The couple said the devastating incident made it clear that a fence needs to be built between the tracks and nearby homes and apartments.
Other neighbors stood near the scene of the child’s death Tuesday, including several young girls, who echoed the call for a fence along the railroad line.
The girls said they spent a sleepless night as awful images played out in their heads, over and over and over.
Said Alexis, who did not want to giver her last name:
“Every day, I see kids playing on the tracks. I tell them to get off.”
Alexis said she has never seen police tell anyone to get away from the tracks, but just then, a BNSF police SUV began rolling up and down the area just north of Belmont.
“The tracks are private property!” blared a loudspeaker as two men walked along the line.
“Get off the tracks!”