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Death raises questions about speeds of trains

By Robyn Claridy rclaridy@news-journal.com
Nov. 17, 2010 at 6 p.m.


GLADEWATER - It may never be known why a 36-year-old Gladewater woman stepped onto train tracks Tuesday night and was struck by an Amtrak passenger train.

And city officials were hesitant Wednesday to speculate about whether a dramatic increase in the speed of trains through Gladewater might have played a role.

Crystilla "Chris" Houston was struck at the Union Pacific Railroad intersection with Walter Derrick Avenue in Gladewater just before 6 p.m. Tuesday, officials said.

"The incident is still under investigation," Police Chief Farrell Alexander said Wednesday. "We know that she walked toward the tracks intentionally, but we don't know if she knew a train was coming."

It was the second train-related death in Gladewater in 17 years.

Amtrak officials said the train was stopped at the scene of the incident for about an hour and 15 minutes while emergency crews and investigators tried to piece together the circumstances leading to Houston's death.

"Situations like these are always tragic, but it's important to know that they are always preventable if people heed warnings," Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said.

Houston's death again raised questions about the speed of trains through this town of 6,300 people. In 2006, the Gladewater City Council fought an increase in allowable speed to 79 mph from 40 mph. The council even passed a resolution opposing the move by Union Pacific, which owns the tracks. The effort failed to change the federal approval, however.

On Wednesday, city officials declined to comment one way or the other.

"Without knowing the particulars of the incident, my comment would be premature," said Gladewater City Manager Sean Pate.

"We don't know why it happened, so we can't say whether the speed limit played a factor."

Alexander said he did not know the speed of the train that struck Houston.

Friends and family said they were bewildered by the sudden death of Houston, a mother of two - 8-year-old son Christopher Houston and 1-year-old daughter Honestee Houston.

"Growing up, Chris was such a nice person and everyone loved her," neighbor Betty Dearion said. "She was a nice person, and loved her kids and mother."

Friends and neighbors described Houston as a great mom who had a contagious laugh.

"Chris is one of the best mothers I have ever met, and when she laughed, everyone laughed with her," Stefanie Matthew said.

Houston is survived by her son and daughter; mother, Diane Houston; brothers, David Houston and Willie Houston III. Funeral service for Houston will be 3:30 p.m. Sunday at Rising Star Church in Gladewater under the direction of Dearion and Davis.

Holly Howell from East Texas Community Newspapers contributed to this report.

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