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Teen dies in crash at Rio Vista rail crossing

Students at Rio Vista High School took up a collection Monday for a classmate who died Sunday when the sports utility vehicle she was driving was struck by a passenger train north of downtown Rio Vista.

The students planned to buy a floral arrangement for the family of Katelan Baker, said Cheryl Villanueva, high school counselor.

The girl was a 15-year-old freshman, Villanueva said.

"It's a quiet, somber day here," she said. "Katelan was a sweet girl, always smiling. Just a sweet, happy girl."

Six counselors were at the school Monday to help students handle their grief, Villanueva said. The Johnson County community is home to about 650 people, according to census data.

Police Chief Steve Johnson confirmed that the girl had a "hardship license" which allowed her to begin driving earlier than age 16.

He said it was inappropriate for him to discuss this family's circumstances. He explained, however, that such licenses are allowed when parents have difficulties, such as getting children to school.

"We're a small community where everybody knows everybody," Johnson said. "We're talking about kids who have gone to school together since kindergarten, and parents who have gone to school together since kindergarten.

"And the fact that this happened on Mother's Day makes it absolutely more tragic."

The collision happened at about 1:20 p.m. Sunday at the rail crossing for North Cleburne Whitney Road, on the city's north side, Johnson said.

Baker, he explained, was the only passenger in the 2003 Chevrolet TrailBlazer that was hit by the northbound Amtrak train destined for Chicago.

Other motorists, he added, told police that the girl drove around a crossing arm.

"It appears the impact was significant enough to kill her instantly," Johnson said.

No one else was hurt, and the train, which carried 63 passengers, was not significantly damaged, Johnson said. It continued on its journey at about 4:15 p.m., he said.

Investigators have said the crossing arm was known to stay down for long stretches, even when no trains were passing through.

Johnson noted, however, that it appeared to be working right on Sunday.

"We've noticed problems with it for years," he said. "We reported it at least twice the last couple of weeks. But the indications from yesterday are that the device was working correctly."

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