It’s still not clear why a couple were on the tracks when they were hit and killed by an Amtrak train on the west side of Durham on Sunday morning.
Derek Lowe, 38, and his wife, Tina Lowe, 33, were hit behind a Kroger shopping center in the 3400 block of Hillsborough Road at about 9:45 a.m. Sunday, according to Durham police.
The northbound Carolinian had originated in Charlotte and was coming into Durham en route to Raleigh, Washington, D.C., and ultimately New York with 166 passengers on board.
A witness told a 911 dispatcher that he heard “a lot of screaming and hollering” just before the train came.
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“I don’t know if they were drunk or what their story was,” the man said in a 911 recording released Monday by the Durham Police Department. “But they just got killed, and the train just stopped.”
The caller, whose name was not disclosed, told the dispatcher he was going to a nearby gym when he heard the commotion.
“Obviously something was going on,” he said. “He definitely heard the train whistle. Either he jumped in front of the train or was just sitting there. I don’t know.”
Police have not yet said if they think the couple’s deaths were accidental or a suicide.
People who worked in the area say the Lowes were homeless and that they lived in a makeshift camp in the woods across the railroad tracks from the Kroger store.
Before they ended up in Durham, the Lowes were evicted twice in Alamance County, once from a home in Graham in 2011 and then from an apartment in Burlington in May 2013, state records show.
Solomon Gasana, who works in homeless outreach for the nonprofit Housing for New Hope, said he had been working with the Lowes “about three months,” but declined to talk about them due to confidentiality rules.
The Lowes were the 15th and 16th pedestrian rail fatalities in Durham County since Jan. 1, 2004, said Jahmal Pullen with engineering and safety branch of the state DOT’s rail division. There have been three fatalities in train-vehicle collisions during the same period, he said.
Durham’s numbers are not particularly high compared with other urban counties, Pullen said. Since Jan. 1, 2004, there have been 18 pedestrians killed in Guilford County, he said, and 10 in Wake.