Whether you’re taking pictures of the fall colours or selfies with friends, train tracks, trestle bridges and other types of railway property are not safe places to do it. Not only are they private property, but using them could get you seriously injured or even killed.
Unfortunately, Tristan Morrissette-Perkins didn’t realize the risk involved in taking photos on or around train tracks. The 16-year-old was tragically hit and killed by a passenger train near Cornwall, Ontario in July 2017. He didn’t hear the train approaching while he was taking pictures on the tracks with his cousin and a friend. The other two boys were able to get off the tracks in time. Tristan was not.
Tristan’s death devastated the community of Dorval, Quebec, where he played competitive hockey. His former teammates spoke about the effect his death had on them in one of Operation Lifesaver’s 2018 #STOPTrackTragedies campaign videos. His story will be one of eight – including five new videos – which will be promoted as part of the 2019 campaign during Rail Safety Week (September 23 to 29).
Seventeen-year-old Patrick Higgins was a former teammate of Tristan’s who appears in the French version of the video. The two boys didn’t just play hockey together for years; they had been close friends since the sixth grade. Patrick shared some of his memories of his friend with Operation Lifesaver.
How would you describe Tristan as a hockey player?
He was the hardest worker, all the time. He had a lot of skill but he was also really humble. He was just an amazing team player. I’ve talked to a lot of people he played with, because he was captain of the mixed AA team and also an assistant captain on his high school team. He always made sure that everybody felt included, that everyone felt important. And he was always very humble. He was just a tremendous team player.
He generally played centre, but he also played defence for one year. He actually volunteered to go on defence so another player could make the team as a forward. That was the kind of person and player he was.
What was he like as a friend?
He was extremely understanding, easy to talk to and supportive. He helped me a lot in hockey and in every aspect of life. We really got along and spent a lot of time together over the years. He was one of those friends that even if I hadn’t seen him for a few months, the second we started talking again, we just clicked.
How did you find out he had been killed?
I found out the night of his accident. I was in bed and I got a call from his sister. I felt like I was in a living nightmare, like I couldn’t believe it was actually real. I think I was in shock for a few days. Even when I think about it now, and I think about it a lot, I was really—my thoughts were all over the place. I couldn't make sense of things, everything just moved so quickly.
How surprised were you by how he was killed
I never could have possibly imagined it. You see commercials about trains and staying away from tracks, but you don’t think much about it. You don’t realize how dangerous it actually is until something like this happens.
In the past, when it came to trains, I looked to my left, I looked to my right, and if I didn’t see anything coming, I thought, “I’m all good.” Now I know how dangerous they actually are and how careful you have to be. I actually live near train tracks and see them all the time. It’s not like I avoid them, but I really am extra cautious around them. They mostly just remind me of Tristan’s accident.
Beyond changing your behaviour around trains, how has Tristan’s death affected you?
Obviously, it has changed my life. I still don’t think I’ve grasped yet how much it will change my life. I think I’m just trying to predict the affect it will have, to be completely honest. I don’t think I’ve fully accepted or understood it. It’s still kind of fresh. But I think about him every day. It’s definitely an obstacle I’ve had to overcome.
The community has been incredible. The high school has done a lot, the city has done a lot, and everybody on the West Island, Montreal too. That’s something I think a lot of people don’t really understand—how one small moment can affect all these different people.
Why do you think Tristan’s death has affected so many people?
The hockey community is very big around here. I mean, he knew a lot of people and his parents knew a lot of people. He was such a great person — everybody loved him. For people to respond like this, it had to be someone special. I don’t think anyone could have predicted how many people would be affected. It’s really overwhelming the way people have supported Tristan’s family and his friends.
When you grow up playing hockey, you learn so much more than the sport. You learn life skills and social skills that stick with you forever. You learn about caring for your teammates, because when you have a good team and a strong bond, it’s like a family. It’s not only the players who bond together, it’s the parents. It really is just a collectively strong and positive community where people respect and care for one another, especially when something like this happens.