UPDATE: Police say man pedaled around closed train gates before death

A Brightline train struck and killed a bicyclist on Wednesday afternoon, marking the second fatal accident involving the highly-anticipated passenger service in less than a week — both in Boynton Beach.

In the hours after Wednesday’s accident, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, called on federal transportation officials to investigate the deaths and look at what is being done to address safety at railroad crossings.

Boynton Beach City Commissioner Joe Casello said he plans to ask City Manager Lori LaVerriere to request that Brightline stop operations until safety questions are answered.

“We all agree with high tech transportation, but it’s obvious Brightline hasn’t addressed all safety issues needed in traveling through our city,” Casello said. “And I’m guessing that once these crossings become quiet zones these type of incidents will become the norm.”

Fla. Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne, also took aim at the train service, which made its public debut on Saturday morning. Mayfield has filed a bill in Tallahassee that would put more regulations on express and high-speed trains like Brightline.

“My question to the corporate big wigs at Brightline is this: How many lives must be lost before you own up to your corporate responsibility?” Mayfield said after Wednesday’s death.

Boynton Beach police say Jeffrey King was headed westbound on Ocean Avenue when he pedaled the bicycle around the gates near the Florida East Coast Railway crossing at Ocean Avenue about 4:30 p.m. He was struck and killed by a northbound Brightline train. City officials told Casello the man “wasn’t even looking just strolling.”

Late Wednesday, Anthony Barber, owner of Troy’s Barbeque in Boynton Beach, told The Palm Beach Post that King was one of his employees. He said the 51-year-old was a dishwasher. He plans to hold a fund-raiser for the family on Sunday at Troy’s.

At the scene, a backpack lay on the ground where the sidewalk on East Ocean crosses the tracks and about 50 feet north was what appeared to be a mangled bicycle in the middle of the tracks. A few feet beyond the bicycle and off to the side of the tracks, the man’s body was covered by a yellow tarpaulin.

A block north, the Brightline train was stopped just north of Boynton Beach Boulevard.

Wyatt Smith was near the tracks when the crash happened. He said he heard “a huge slam and I just saw a bicycle, a backpack and what appeared to be a person just flying.”

“I just don’t know. The crossings were down and everything. The lights were up,” Smith said.

As he recalled the crash, a woman, crying, came to him and asked if he was a witness.

“The man that was killed was my brother,” she said. She declined to speak with reporters.

Jim Kovalsky, the president of the Florida East Coast Railway Society, came to the scene and called for better education around railroad crossings as well as more enforcement from police.

“It’s a tragedy, but these are definitely preventable,” Kovalsky said. “From when we’re kids, we’re taught that red means stop.”

City police issued this statement: “We would like to remind the public to take extra caution when approaching railroad crossings and to be mindful that if the red lights are flashing and the arms are coming down to stop and not make any attempt to cross.”

The death came five days after another northbound Brightline train struck and killed Melissa Lavell near the intersection of Northeast Sixth Avenue. The two accidents occurred within a mile of each other.

Lavell, 32, tried to beat the train with another person but only the man made it across, according to a police report released Wednesday. Brightline’s engineers told police the guard gates were in the down position. Police said it appears her death was accidental. The Medical Examiner is still investigating.

Safety upgrades made along Brightline’s route on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks provide a constant warning time for pedestrians and motorists in advance of a train’s arrival. Whether it’s a fast-moving Brightline train or a slower freight locomotive, the amount of time from when the crossing gates go down to the train’s arrival at the intersection is always the same.

The fatality was the third for Brightline in Palm Beach County since July 24, when an 18-year-old woman was killed in Boca Raton. Her death was ruled a suicide. A Brightline train was involved in another fatal crash Nov. 1 in Deerfield Beach. There were no passengers on the train when it hit and killed a 35-year-old woman.

In the case of an accident, the company said it works with the local authorities and the Florida East Coast Railway Police as they conduct their investigation. The local authorities and FEC Railway Police determine when an on-scene investigation is complete and the train can be released.

“Each situation is different, and if passenger disembarkation can be performed safely, Brightline will attempt to work with the local authorities to disembark guests and transport them via other transportation alternatives to their final destinations,” the company said.

Brightline canceled four trains for Wednesday evening between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale after the fatality, according to its website.

After the accident, the first train to travel through the Ocean Avenue intersection once it reopened passed by about 7 p.m.

Before the arms went down or the alarms sounded Wednesday night, two boys crossing the tracks saw the lights of the freight train in the distance and hurried across the tracks. “Hurry!” one said. “The train!”

Staff writer George Bennett contributed to this story.

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