Train collides with tow truck, kills driver in Cardiff

A piece of the tow truck's transmission landed on San Elijo Avenue, 200 yards from the accident.
  • A piece of the tow truck's transmission landed on San Elijo Avenue, 200 yards from the accident.

A tow-truck driver was killed in Cardiff on Saturday afternoon, December 8, when a southbound Amtrak plowed into his rig.

At around 2:30 p.m., the tow-truck driver had just turned off of Coast Hwy. 101 to the eastbound track crossing on Chesterfield Drive. He had pulled over to assist a customer in a white SUV. Witnesses say the SUV had stalled about five feet short of the tracks.

The tow-truck driver parked on the tracks and tried to quickly hook up the vehicle to be towed; then the crossing’s warning bells sounded. He jumped into his truck to move it but was unsuccessful. He was killed instantly.

The SUV’s driver and her passenger were inside their vehicle but were able to get out in time. Their vehicle was severely damaged in the collision.

Antonia from Cardiff said she had just crossed the tracks and saw the tow truck and the SUV sitting there. Two minutes later, while walking down to the beach along Coast Hwy., she heard “the loudest boom,” and turned around to see pieces of the truck scattering in flames.

A North County Transit District official (owners of the tracks) said the train was probably traveling at the approved speed of 90 mph through Encinitas until the conductor saw the truck on the tracks ahead of him and put on the brakes. It took the train several hundred yards to come to a complete stop just before the San Elijo Lagoon bridge.

A train passenger, complaining of injuries, was removed from the train and taken to a nearby hospital.

“The truck is scattered in pieces for 500 yards down the track,” said Don Eisenhower, assistant manger for Towex towing, headquartered in Mira Mesa. Towex is the contract road-assistance provider for AAA members, from Birmingham Drive south to Mira Mesa.

“This isn’t the first time this has happened, and it won’t be the last,” said a distraught Eisenhower. “It’s the nature of our business. We can replace trucks, but we can never replace him.”

At 4:42 p.m., the first non-involved train was allowed to pass through the scene. A northbound Coaster train traveled through at a very slow speed. Reportedly, the tracks were still hot from the extinguished fires.

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