Boyfriend recounts train victim's final moments

She accompanied himon railroad bridge so he could jump off

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

Published:

 
photoAmanda Duarte, 24, of Vancouver was struck and killed by an Amtrak train on a railroad bridge near Woodland on Wednesday.

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Amanda Duarte had gone down to the Lewis River Bridge with her boyfriend, Chris Borelis, and two of their friends Wednesday. It was a clear, hot day and the water was high.

Duarte, 24, walked with Borelis, 27, toward the north side of the bridge, not quite halfway down the span. He handed her his cargo shorts, belt and wallet so he could jump off the bridge into the water.

"Be careful," she said. She hugged and kissed him and said, "I love you."

"She gets nervous about that stuff," Borelis said of him bridge jumping and cliff jumping.

She started walking back to the south side of the bridge and appeared to be on the gravel part of the track when they heard the train.

"Soon as I heard the horn, I yelled at her that a train was coming," Borelis said.

Borelis walked to the side of the bridge and climbed out to where he was going to jump. He couldn't see her anymore, but assumed she was on the trail leading down to the shore. As soon as the train went by, Borelis jumped into water and swam to shore. A friend who was fishing said Duarte never walked down the trail.

Borelis scrambled up the rocks.

"Babe, don't mess around," Borelis called. He couldn't find her at first. Then, when he looked down the tracks, he saw her body.

Amanda Duarte, 24 was struck and killed by an Amtrak train traveling south from Seattle to Eugene, Ore., at 8:20 p.m. Wednesday. The railroad bridge over the Lewis River in Woodland has a history of fatalities, both those struck by trains and those jumping off the bridge into shallow water. No trespassing signs warn of high speed trains that frequent this bridge.

The tracks are owned by the BNSF Railway, and trespassing on them is a criminal offense, said BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas. Over the past decade, an average of 16 or 17 trespassers are killed each year on BNSF property in Washington.

Melonas said BNSF sees an increase in trespassing incidents during warmer weather. He said the railroad's police force will continue to aggressively patrol its property and issue citations to trespassers.

"But you can't fence, you can't mark the thousands of miles of rail lines we have," Melonas said. "We ask that the rails act as a reminder that the railroad tracks are extremely dangerous and not to trespass."

Amtrak trains can travel at 79 mph in that area, which means a train can cover up to 115 feet every second -- or a quarter mile in 11.4 seconds.

"Obviously, you can't outrun the train," Borelis said. "You just have to move right or left."

He returned to the bridge Thursday afternoon and timed a train that went by. It took 19 seconds for the entire train to pass from one end of the bridge to the other.

"I walked up there, trying to figure out how to put it all together with the time she had," he said.

He estimated she had about 30 seconds to clear the tracks. If she had jumped, she would've jumped into bushes and gravel, he said.

"I can't figure out how she didn't make that last few feet," Borelis said. "I don't know if she froze up like a deer in the headlights and just panicked."

Borelis wondered if she got her foot stuck in the tracks. She was wearing a pair of Vans, and on Thursday Borelis found the left shoe. There were also some of her remains still on the tracks.

The couple's other friend fishing on the shore below and to the right of the bridge said it looked like Duarte was off the main tracks.

"Me and her were making a good thing together," Borelis said.

They met at a bonfire held by their friends. He noticed she had a sticker on the back of her car that said Waianae. Both of their families are from Waianae, a city in Hawaii. She spent her childhood there. The couple was planning to visit in February to return the ashes of Chris's grandfather.

After working nights at the Heathman Lodge in Vancouver, Amanda got a job at the Portland International Airport so the couple could spend more time together. When she wasn't working or attending Clark College to become a biology teacher, she was with Borelis.

Although she lived with her grandparents in Vancouver, she spent most nights with Chris. They cooked dinner together, watched movies, and went camping, crabbing and fishing together.

"We were doing that every weekend, every day," Chris said.

About a month ago, they went sturgeon fishing in Kalama and she caught her very first sturgeon -- 36 inches long.

Amanda loved to travel and had been all over Europe. Her mother lives in Germany, where Amanda was born, and her twin sister lives in Canada. Duarte's family is planning to come down to Vancouver for a small service in a couple of weeks. Her remains will be cremated.

Patty Hastings: 360-735-4513; http://www.twitter.com/col_cops;patty.hastings@columbian.com.