Woodburn middle schooler hit by Amtrak, dies

Juan Carlos Robles-Melara was a student at French Prairie Middle School in Woodburn

Juan Carlos Robles-Melara, in an undated photo provided to the Woodburn Independent, Oct. 22, 2014
Juan Carlos Robles-Melara, in an undated photo provided to the Woodburn Independent, Oct. 22, 2014

GERVAIS, Ore. (KOIN 6) — A 13-year-old was hit and killed by an Amtrak train while walking along the tracks between Woodburn and Gervais around 7:50 p.m. Tuesday.

Juan Carlos Robles-Melara was a student at French Prairie Middle School in Woodburn and was a soccer player. Authorities said Wednesday he was a high functioning student with autism.

Investigators said he was supposed to wait for his mother after soccer practice, but when he wasn’t there, his mother began looking for him. Eventually they called police.

The Woodburn Independent reports he was walking alone, apparently lost, when the Amtrak train hit him around 7:50 p.m. Shortly after the accident, officials said, the teen was identified by his clothing and school identification he had in his backpack.

The final game of the soccer season was scheduled for Wednesday, but that game was canceled, school principal Ricardo Marquez said.

School response

In a statement, Woodburn School District Superintendent Chuck Ransom said the news hit the district very hard.

“The Woodburn School District will have grief counselors on campus to help students and staff in the days ahead. A memo was sent to all District staff this morning asking them to be on the lookout for signs of shock or stress in their students so they can get the assistance and care they need.

In the meantime, please respect the family’s privacy and keep them in your thoughts and prayers. This is a difficult time, but the District will get through it by supporting our community.”

City response

On Oct. 15, 2013 — almost exactly one year ago — another 13-year-old, Diego Rodriguez, was killed in a similar incident. At that time, two teens were walking on the tracks and believed the oncoming train was on the other track. When they realized it was on their track, only one was able to jump to safety.

Following last year’s train death, Gervais Mayor Shanti Platt and other local officials looked into what it would cost to build a fence around the tracks and build an alternative walking path.

Walking along the track cuts the distance from between Woodburn and Gervais from 3 miles to 1 mile. A pedestrian pathway, possibly funded through grants, could cost as much at $1 million.

Gervais City Manager Susie Marston said even though walking along the tracks is technically illegal, it’s very common.

“The reason why is it seems to be the shortest path between the two cities,” she said.

Marston said she’s heard of other, similar pathways that “involved grant money,” Marston said. “We’re hopeful with the tragedies that have been happening in the area with the railroad tracks, that will speak to the need for a safer alternative.”

City leaders will meet again in the next month or two to try and push the project forward.

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