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Train hits man lying on tracks
Suicide try or accident? Police not sure which
Manteca firefighters work on a man who was struck in the head by a train after he placed himself prone between the tracks and raised himself up as a train was passing. - photo by Photo Contributed

Witnesses said the man who was hit by a train in downtown early Wednesday evening tried to get inside the Manteca Winery on Oak Street several times before he walked over to the railroad tracks behind the Valentine Construction compound that includes the winery.

Investigators were not sure if the incident was a suicide attempt, but they would not call it an accident either, because the victim went and lay himself down between the tracks in front of the upcoming train that was going toward South Main Street.

“It’s possible alcohol may have been involved, but we have to wait for the results of the tests” before any conclusive statement can be made, said Sgt. Danny Erb of the Manteca Police Department.

According to preliminary reports, it appeared the man was “lying between the tracks and then put his head up” as the train ran over him, he said.

The victim was taken to a trauma center in Modesto because he had “substantial head injuries. It’s very possible that he may survive it,” Sgt. Erb said.

A shaken Tim Valentine, owner of Valentine Construction since spring when he bought the former Celpril compound which includes the Manteca Winery, said he saw the man immediately prior to the accident. “He had come over to the winery and tried to come in.”

Each time, the man was turned away because the business was closed at that time.

Marica Simonson, one of the employees who talked to the victim prior to the accident, said the man appeared “like he wasn’t there.”

She described the man as “probably in his 30s.”

Simonson said, “He came in to the winery but we told him, ‘oh, we’re closed.’ About 15 to 20 minutes later, we heard the train running back down.”

Like Valentine and the other workers, she immediately ran to the accident site which is the section of the tracks between the company’s two main buildings on the north side of Oak Street and saw the gory and bloody scene.

“He was lying on the tracks. He was still breathing; he looked pretty mangled,” said Simonson.

She said the man was a familiar face around this part of Oak Street.

“I’ve seen him walking up and down the street on previous occasions,” she said.

Valentine said that not long after he and his other workers encountered the victim at the winery, they were jarred by a powerful “screeching” sound followed by a loud “bang” when the train tried to do an emergency stop to avoid hitting the man lying down between the tracks.

Valentine said he “(knew) nothing about the extent” of the victim’s injuries or “what kind of injuries” he sustained. “I just know he was under the train; when I first saw him, he was under the train. He left here alive, but I think he’s not going to make it.”

Simonson said the train was “going toward Main Street” when the incident happened.

She added that the young children who were “playing chicken with the train” behind Athens Burgers on the east side of the tracks may have seen the whole thing.

The condition of the victim was not known as of press time. A staff at the Memorial Medical Center in Modesto who answered the telephone said they did not have any patient who was involved in a train accident in Manteca.

An emergency room staff at Doctors Hospital Modesto referred all questions to the person in charge of speaking to the news media who was already gone for the day.