RENO, Nev. (AP) – Union Pacific railroad officials are defending their handling of the cleanup of the remains of a suicide victim whose widow complained his skin and bones were still on the tracks more than two weeks after he was struck by a train in northern Nevada.
Company officials extended their sympathies to the family of 42-year-old Jerry Neal of Fernley and further explained in a statement late Friday their understanding of the chain of events that left family members horrified.
The Reno Gazette-Journal first reported the incident.
Union Pacific spokesman Aaron Hunt said Friday that they dispatched a private contractor to the tracks near Fernley, about 30 miles west of Reno, within days of when Neal’s widow, Kristy, notified them the routine cleanup conducted by the coroner’s office had failed to complete the job. He acknowledged the final complete wasn’t done until July 5 – 17 days after Neal’s death on June 18.
“We are saddened by the tragic death that took place on our tracks in Nevada. It has had a deep impact on our train crew and all Union Pacific employees who have been part of the aftermath,” he said in an email to The Associated Press.
Union Pacific officials were first to respond to the initial suicide scene. The Lyon County sheriff’s office then sent a deputy coroner to remove body parts, which were cremated.
But three days later, following a formal investigation and body cleanup, a friend of Neal’s son said he was shocked when he visited the location.
“It was pretty bad,” Brett White told the Gazette-Journal. “You could see big clumps of it – just skin, no blood or anything. It was all over. It was pretty gross.”
Sheriff’s Lt. Johnny Smith said by that time, responsibility for the scene had shifted from the county to the railroad.
“Our responsibility is to collect as much human remains as we can find,” said Smith, who investigated and gathered Neal’s body. “Usually anything the size of a quarter or bigger we collect. As far as cleanup, it falls on Union Pacific, which they did do.”
Kristy Neal said her husband had lost his job a month earlier at Toys R Us. She said the couple had been fighting but considered it a “regular marital dispute.”
“There is not one person that knew him who ever thought that he might do something like that, not one,” she said.
She said her husband sent her a text message at dawn on July 18: “I’m laying. On tracks for u. I’m fixing it for us.”
After his death, Kristy Neal visited family out of town for a week. Upon her return, she said she didn’t believe White when he told her body parts remained on the tracks, so she went to see for herself a week later but found only a few of his personal items.
She didn’t see the remains until she returned another week later to place a cross near the tracks.
“We came across this huge – horrible – there’s no way you can miss that,” she said. “It killed me because I just felt it shouldn’t be like that.”
At that point she complained in emails to Union Pacific and the Gazette-Journal.
Hunt confirmed the railroad responded within days by hiring a private contractor to do the work, which was completed on July 5.
On Friday, he said the local coroner routinely is responsible for removal of such remains.
“The coroner responded to the scene in this case and performed their standard processes,” Hunt said.
“When we were made aware that the family had a concern, we sent a contractor to the scene of the incident. Our contractor performed some additional processes on our tracks,” he added.