Joshua Schaefer, 12, was killed Wednesday after a freight train slammed into his vehicle in California’s Bay Area. The 19-year-old driver, who was identified as Schaefer’s sister Kaylee by a family friend, was airlifted via REACH medical helicopter to John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek in critical condition. The siblings were the only two passengers in the totaled vehicle, reports claimed.
Joshua Schaefer was identified Wednesday night by his mother, Melissa Schaefer. She told reporters that he was only 12 years old – she was crushed when she got the nightmare call. Her kids’ vehicle was traveling westbound on East Cypress in Oakley at around 1:00 p.m. when the train smashed into their car. According to a GoFundMe page, the 19-year-old sister was driving at the time. There were no updates on her condition as of Thursday morning.
According to reports, the tragic crash involved two other vehicles, though the extent of the damage has not been revealed. It was not immediately clear if the vehicles were also struck by the train or if the vehicles were damaged by flying debris. Police reported that the initial crash caused one vehicle to flip. Three other individuals were injured in the crash though the extent of their injuries is unknown.
East Contra Costa Fire Protection District firefighters arrived at the railroad crossing around 12:53 p.m. Oakley police arrived shortly after. Joshua Schaefer was pronounced dead at the scene. Another victim suffered from severe head trauma and was in and out of consciousness several times, police said.
The City of Oakley account posted to Twitter Wednesday, advising people to stay away from “the area of the railroad tracks and East Cypress Road.” The post claimed that “there has been a fatal collision between an individual and a train. Take alternate routes, as traffic is heavy in the area.”
The city eventually revealed more information on its Twitter account, explaining that “shortly before 1 p.m. a vehicle which had been traveling westbound on East Cypress collided with a train. One passenger has been pronounced dead at the scene & the driver was transported for treatment. OPD asks you to AVOID the area.”
Joshua Schaefer’s death has sparked heartache in the local community. He was a student at Delta Vista Middle School. The crash occurred just one block from the school. It’s not clear if the siblings were driving to or from the school before the crash.
“I got children that go to school right over here in Delta Vista [Middle School],” one of the witnesses, Edward Harris said.
The Oakley Union Elementary School District’s board of trustees sent via email “our deepest sympathies to the family, the Delta Vista School community, and school communities throughout the district who are impacted by the tragedy that occurred earlier today.”
The email statement continued, saying that “the district’s crisis management team is providing counseling and bereavement support services, on-site, to our students and staff to help everyone cope with the events of today.”
The horrific train accident has sparked more than sadness in the city of Oakley. Many believe structural changes need to be made to make the railroad crossing safer for commuters.
“This crossing needs an overpass,” said Sean Ireland. “It’s used by thousands of commuters every day, and with all of the construction on Cypress we will only see more and more incidents.”
Oakley resident Niecy McGee explained that she doesn’t “know what the solution is” but claimed that “we have kids that walk those tracks every day to and from school.”
Chief Ross Macumber with the East Contra Costa Fire District said that this was the third time this year that his crew responded to accidents involving a train and a car. He reminded drivers that “if the crossing arms are down, don’t ever try and beat a train. They are down for a reason. The trains come through at a high rate of speed and they don’t stop for a long time. New try and beat a train.”
A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to support the family during this “nightmare.” Family friend Kimberly Mello said that she organized the fundraiser on behalf of Melissa Welsh-Schaefer, Joshua Schaefer’s mom. The GoFundMe page has raised nearly $6,000 for the family to help with funeral expenses, as well as medical bills for Kaylee.
“Today was a parent’s worst nightmare,” Mello explained in the post on the GoFundMe page. “Melissa received the call no mother wants to get. Two of her children had been in a horrible vehicle accident, with a train. One of her children succumbed to his injuries and her daughter was on a life flight to a trauma center.”
Mello said that “there are no words to express the pain she is going through at this time. Joshua was a funny, smart, loving 12-year-old boy who was taken from this earth too soon. Our hearts are crushed. Joshua will be missed more than anyone will know.”