Durham man identified as killed by freight train

tmcdonald@newsobserver.comMay 13, 2014 

— Police are still trying to determine why a man who was struck and killed by a freight train in downtown Durham on Monday failed to get off the tracks as the train approached.

Jerome Brandon of 407 Pineland Ave. in North Durham was pronounced dead at the scene near the intersection of Pettigrew and Dillard streets, said police spokesman Kammie Michael.

Police say an eastbound Norfolk Southern freight train struck Brandon, 31, while he was walking on the tracks about 4 p.m.

A man who called 911 told an emergency dispatcher that “a train hit somebody, or somebody jumped off the train.”

“The train was going pretty fast,” said the 911 caller, whose name was not made public. “I saw the guy get knocked down. He got knocked a pretty good little ways.”

The train stopped after the accident. Police closed the intersection while investigating the collision.

Police are trying to determine whether drugs or alcohol played a role in the crash, Michael said Tuesday.

Brandon’s mother, Emma Thorpe Derefaka, said she did not learn about her son’s death until Tuesday morning, when she arrived home from work as a live-in certified nursing assistant. She had a voicemail message on her phone from a police detective asking her to call.

‘Why was he over there?’

Derefaka, who is 63, said that Brandon, the youngest of her three boys, did not drive and that it was unusual for him to be downtown.

“Why was he over there? That’s what I’m trying to find out,” she said. “That’s not a normal side of town for him. I asked the detective this morning, and she didn’t know anything.”

Derefaka last saw Brandon on Thursday. She said the two “had a little argument,” but she declined to say what the two were at odds about.

Brandon grew up in Durham and attended public schools before earning a general education diploma. Derefaka described her son as “happy,” “funny,” and “very caring.”

Brandon owned a mower and other lawn care tools that he used to operate an informal lawn-care business and take care of his neighbors’ yards.

Derefaka said she and her family members are lifelong Jehovah’s Witnesses, but Brandon had not attended worship services since he was a teenager. She said he started regularly attending Kingdom Hall services again about a month ago.

“He was thinking about getting a Bible study group started,” Derefaka said.

Brandon was single. He lived with his mother and did not have any children.

Derefaka said the only thing she wanted her son to do was “keep my lawn mowed and wash my car.”

“Everybody liked him,” she said. “Everybody knew him in the neighborhood.”

McDonald: 919-829-4533

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