Marceline family looking for justice after daughter is killed by train

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MARCELINE – Melony and Michael Clay, the parents of Katawna, said her death could have been prevented by a barrier or fence near the tracks.

The family is planning to sue Burlington Northern Sante Fe Railroad company for the death of their 9-year-old daughter.

Currently, the train companies deem a person hit on the tracks a “trespasser.”

The Clays live a few hundred feet from busy train tracks that run through the town of Marceline.

Melony said that Katawna was walking her dog, Snoopy, when the dog got loose and ran towards the tracks. When Katawna was bringing Snoopy back to the house, a train traveling south near her home hit and killed them instantly.

“Railroad tracks that are anywhere near any sort of residential (area) or anywhere where there are people, period, should be raised or there should be some sort of barrier, there should be a fence,” Melony said. “They don’t want people on their property? Put something there to keep people off your property. It’s that simple.”

BNSF is one largest railroad companies in the country with a net worth of around $16 billion dollars.

The company’s guidelines for separation projects states that fencing will be put up in areas deemed necessary by the company.

It reads: “Fencing shall be provided to safeguard the general public and prevent trespassers from entering the railroad right-of-way and accessing the track or other railroad structures. Each project will be evaluated on a case by case basis.”

There was no fencing near Katawna’s or her neighbors’ homes to prevent these kinds of accidents from happening. The sole railroad fencing in Marceline runs around three blocks in the town’s center and only covers one side of the tracks.

This fencing ends a few hundred yards from where Katawna died.

KOMU 8 News reached out to BNSF for a comment several times, but they sent us back a link to its website about trespasser deaths and no comment on Katawna's death.

However, a death like Katawna’s is not uncommon. The number of pedestrian deaths on railroad property has sharply increased in recent years.

In the past decade, the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) data shows that 4,596 pedestrians have been killed on railroad property since 2009.

Another 4,300 pedestrians were injured during that same time period.

Jose Bautista is one of the Clay's lawyers. He said he took Katawna’s case because it was so compelling.

“I think this could have been prevented with a simple fence,” Bautista said.

In Missouri, the number of pedestrian deaths more than doubled between 2016 and 2018.

These deaths often occur, although not exclusively, in heavily-populated urban areas like Kansas City and St. Louis.

For eight of the last 10 years, BNSF has had the highest number of pedestrian deaths on Missouri tracks.

Because of the daily train traffic Marceline sees, Bautista worries that this might not be last time someone is killed on these tracks.

“Clearly, given the amount of people who are right up against this particular set of tracks, the number of trains going through there, the speeds at which they’re going through, the fact that it's unprotected — this is not the last time it’s going to happen,” Bautista said.

Bautista is working with the Clays as they hope to spark change for their town. Still, Melony knows that life without Katawna has been and will remain extremely difficult for their family.

“There will be a purpose for all of this and I won’t stop until we find that purpose and fulfill it,” Melony Clay said.

Morgan Keith and Janice Zhou of the Columbia Missourian contributed to this story.