OAKLEY, Calif. - The death of a boy in a train vs. car crash in Oakley has saddened, but not necessarily surprised, the community.
Many people say traffic congestion is a chronic problem at the train crossing.
"It always gets backed up in both directions, east and west," said Larry Mendoza, who lives nearby. "It's just the way it is, with two schools we have more than 300 parents trying to leave at the same time."
Wednesday's crash happened just before 1 p.m., as a freight train passed at East Cypress Road near Main Street.
A car in the train's path was partially crushed and overturned, landing alongside the track.
A 12-year-old boy in the passenger seat was killed instantly. The coroner identified him as Joshua Schaefer.
The 19-year-old driver, said to be his sister, suffered critical injuries and was airlifted to John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek.
"I went down there when I saw all the helicopters and what was going on, it was a sad sight to see," said Mendoza, who has two children at Delta Vista Middle School, where the young victim was a student.
At the campus Wednesday, the school principal refused to talk about the tragedy.
A statement from the school district expressed condolences and indicated grief counselors will be available Thursday.
The school is less than a half mile from the train crossing.
Wednesdays are minimum days, when all students are released at noon.
"I was devastated when I heard," said parent Lorena Leon, laying a bouquet near the crossing to honor the boy. "Hearing it happened when kids get off school, I knew it was going to involve someone from the school, either a parent or a child."
The city of Oakley say the signals and crossing arms appear to have been operating properly at the time.
"The train went through and all of a sudden I just heard a big crunch," said one witness, who was in another waiting car when the crash happened.
"I looked over and the car flew off the road, tires were flying and debris was hitting my truck, so I called 911," recounted the driver.
Initially, responders thought the train had hit multiple vehicles.
Later they clarified that one other car was struck secondarily by the first one, and that no one was injured in the second impact.
Oakley Police and the Federal Railroad Administration are investigating.
"Of course there should be a better system because a child just died today," reacted neighborhood resident Susan Elizabeth.
Elizabeth uses the same route to and from work, and says she worries about unwittingly getting boxed in on the track when traffic is heavy.
"Going through there in the morning and coming home, and it's probably double when school gets out," she said.
The city of Oakley has responded to the congestion concerns by modifying turn lanes and signal times nearby to keep vehicles flowing through the crossing.
But parents wonder if more should be done.
"Everyone drives this strip of road and it could have easily been any of our children so its really difficult to deal with," said Leon.
Accompanied by her two middle-school daughters, the threesome were the first to lay flowers at the site.
"Going over this track I definitely will feel more nervous and more worried about what could happen," said Dakota Leon, 13.
Another car was damaged by the train, but no one in that vehicle was injured.
After the crash, family members came to the scene briefly, in tears and hugging each other.