The note on top of the Bay City News Service dispatch on Tuesday would make any editor cringe:
- EDITORS PLEASE NOTE: Caltrain officials said Monday that the person hit [by a Caltrain in San Mateo on Monday] was female, but the coroner’s office today confirmed the victim was a man.
Who told the media that the victim was a woman? Caltrans spokeswoman Christine Dunn did in an e-mail to media outlets at 7:16 p.m. Monday. She wrote:
- At approximately 5:15 p.m. this evening southbound train #266 struck and killed a female trespasser on the southbound tracks north of the Hayward Park Caltrain Station in San Mateo. No additional information about the victim is available.
Reporters attempting to double check Dunn’s claim on Monday night with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, which has the contract to provide security for Caltrain, found that the officer normally assigned to the railroad was on vacation. It was too early for a coroner’s report — that wouldn’t come out until Tuesday. So several newspapers including the Daily Post, Daily Journal, Mercury News, San Mateo County Times and Daily News reported victim was a woman in Tuesday morning’s editions.
Mike Rosenberg of the San Mateo County Times got to the accident scene and interviewed an eyewitness, Donald Graham, who said he tried to stop the victim from jumping in front of the train. But it was clear that the eyewitnesses’ quotes were changed — with the addition of words in parenthesis to fit the incorrect information provided by Caltrain’s Dunn. Rosenberg’s story said:
- At that moment, Graham said he had a choice: Run and try to push the person off the tracks, or flag down the police officer. He made what authorities say is the right decision — he sprinted toward the cruiser and waved his arms, and he got the attention of the San Mateo SWAT officer inside.
- He quickly explained the situation to the cop, and the two ran toward the tracks. “Before we could get there, the (person on the track) got hit, and it was right in front of us,” Graham said. “It was like it was in slow motion.”
- “I could have stopped it,” said Graham, who stands 6 feet 6 inches tall and weighs 250 pounds. “If I hadn’t stopped the cop I would have pulled (her) off the tracks.”
- He said there was no doubt in his mind that it was a suicide. He said the person who was struck looked intoxicated and did not say anything while walking on the tracks.
- “(She) just kind of looked at me,” he said.
Another newspaper, The Daily Post, contacted the coroner’s office on Tuesday to obtain the identity of the victim and also ask a more sensitive question — is there any chance that the victim might have appeared to be a woman. The deputy coroner told reporter Ryan Riddle that there was no way anyone could have mistaken the victim for a woman. (Disclosure: Press Club Website editor Dave Price, who wrote this items, is also editor of the Post.)