A simple mistake can have tragic consequences when a train is involved

On a November night in 2013, 17-year-old Michael Newnham’s life came to a tragic end when he was hit by a commuter train just minutes from his home in Mississauga, Ont. He tripped while running across the tracks on his way home after a night out with friends. He had ducked under the crossing gates, thinking he could beat the train.

It was an unfortunate split-second decision that ended his young life.

Michael had everything going for him—and everything to look forward to. The grade 12 student was outgoing and popular. He played on the school rugby team and was captain of his competitive hockey team. He’d applied and been accepted into college after graduation.

Michael’s story is the focus of a new video being launched as part of Operation Lifesaver’s #STOPTrackTragedies campaign. It is one of seven videos that tell the stories of people affected by rail incidents—from victims’ parents and friends, to the locomotive engineers driving the train and the first responders on the scene. All seven videos will be unveiled during Rail Safety Week from September 23rd to 29th, 2018.

Not surprisingly, Michael’s death has had a lasting impact on his family, friends and former teammates. But it has also left its mark on Justin Alkhouri. He’s a special constable with Metrolinx, the provincial agency that runs GO Transit. He was one of the officers called to the scene the night Michael was killed.

Constable Alkhouri spoke to us about that tragic night and the effect Michael’s death has had on him. Here is some of that conversation.

What was your role that night?

I wasn’t the first officer on the scene. I was liaising with the police officers, emergency medical services personnel and firefighters who were on the scene. I was also the one showing the detectives and the coroner the silent witness footage—the footage that the locomotive records from the front and back at all times.

Could you describe what happened?

All you see is this young male trying to beat the train, tripping and falling in front of the train, and not having enough time to recover and get out of the way. I can only imagine what he was going through, it was just instant. That specific area is multitrack, so there are at least three tracks. When a train is going full speed, it’s hard to tell which track it’s coming from. I guess he just figured, “Oh I can beat the train,” instead of waiting 20 seconds.

How hard was it to watch that footage?

Extremely. Especially as a father of two young boys. I’ve got a six-year-old and my youngest will be three years old soon. It did affect me, I’m not going to lie. It’s not that I can’t sleep or that I think about it all the time, but I can't forget it. I’ll probably never forget it. There have been other, more routine incidents where I show up, I do my job, and I’m gone, and I don’t even think about it later. This one was different because it was a kid with so much potential — like any kid, I guess. He just happened to make a silly mistake and it ended up going way too wrong.

When you found out it was a teenager, what went through your mind?

You feel that helplessness, like, “Why wasn’t I there to see him and stop him? Or talk to him, or intervene in any way.” I guess it’s something that you work out in your mind, that unfortunately you can’t help everybody.

That’s really what got to me: the fact that this kid just made a stupid mistake, and we’ve all been there and made a stupid mistake, but unfortunately it ended up costing him his life.

If you could have spoken to Michael that night, before he went around the gates, what would you have said?

You have so much to live for. You have so much potential. Just be patient. If he had waited literally 20 seconds, the train would have passed by with no issues whatsoever. And he would have gotten home at basically the exact same time.