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Investigators probe Amtrak derailment that killed 3

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Sheriff’s office: At least 3 killed in Amtrak derailment

By AMY BETH HANSON and ANITA SNOW

JOPLIN, Mont. (AP) — Federal officials sent a team of investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board to the site of an Amtrak derailment in north-central Montana that killed three people and left seven hospitalized Sunday, officials said.

The westbound Empire Builder was en route to Seattle from Chicago, with two locomotives and 10 cars, when it left the tracks about 4 p.m. Saturday near Joplin, a town of about 200.

The train was carrying about 141 passengers and 16 crew members and had two locomotives and 10 cars, eight of which derailed, Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams said.

A 14-member team including investigators and specialists in railroad signals would look into the cause of the derailment on a BNSF Railway main track that involved no other trains or equipment. said NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss.

The accident scene is about 150 miles (241 kilometers) northeast of Helena and about 30 miles (48 kilometers) from the Canadian border.

Most of those on the train were treated and released for their injuries, but five who were more seriously hurt remained at the Benefis Health System hospital in Great Falls, Montana, said Sarah Robbin, Liberty County emergency services coordinator. Two were in the ICU, another spokeswoman said.

Another two people were at Logan Health, a hospital in Kalispell, Montana, spokeswoman Melody Sharpton said.

Liberty County Sheriff Nick Erickson said the names of the dead would not be released until relatives are notified.

Robbin said nearby residents rushed to offer help when the derailment occurred.

“We are so fortunate to live where we do, where neighbors help neighbors,” she said.

Amtrak said it sent emergency personnel and other officials to the site to help passengers, employees and local officials. It said company officials were “deeply saddened” to learn of the deaths.

Because of the derailment, Sunday’s westbound Empire Builder from Chicago will terminate in Minneapolis, and the eastbound train will originate in Minneapolis.

Passenger Megan Vandervest told The New York Times she was awakened by the derailment.

“My first thought was that we were derailing because, to be honest, I have anxiety and I had heard stories about trains derailing,” said Vandervest, of Minneapolis. “My second thought was that’s crazy. We wouldn’t be derailing. Like, that doesn’t happen.”

She told the Times that the car behind hers was tilted, the one behind that was tipped over, and the three cars behind that “had completely fallen off the tracks and were detached from the train.”

Speaking from the Liberty County Senior Center, where some passengers were being taken, Vandervest said it felt like “extreme turbulence on a plane.”

Residents of communities near the crash site quickly mobilized to help.

Chester Councilwoman Rachel Ghekiere said she and others helped about 50 to 60 passengers who were brought to a school.

“I went to the school and assisted with water, food, wiping dirt off faces,” she said. “They appeared to be tired, shaken but happy that they were where they were. Some looked more disheveled than others, depending where they were on the train.”

A grocery store in Chester, about 5 miles (8 kilometers) from the derailment, and a nearby religious community provided food, she said.

The passengers were taken by buses to hotels in nearby Shelby, said Ghekiere, whose husband works for the local emergency services agency and was alerted to the crash.

Photos on social media showed rail cars on their sides and passengers standing alongside the tracks, some carrying luggage. The images showed sunny skies, and it appeared the accident occurred along a straight section of tracks.

Allan Zarembski, director of the University of Delaware’s Railway Engineering and Safety Program, said he didn’t want to speculate but suspected the derailment stemmed from an issue with the train track or equipment, or a combination of both.

Railways have “virtually eliminated” major derailments by human error after the implementation of positive train control nationwide, Zarembski said.

“I would be surprised if this was a human-factor derailment,” Zarembski said.

NTSB findings could take months, he added.

Bob Chipkevich, who oversaw railroad crash investigations for several years at the NTSB, said the agency won’t rule out human error or any other potential causes for now.

“There are still human performance issues examined by NTSB to be sure that people doing the work are qualified and rested and doing it properly,” Chipkevich said.

Chipkevich said track conditions have historically been a significant cause of train accidents. He noted most of the track that Amtrak uses is owned by freight railroads and it depends on those companies for safety maintenance.

Other recent Amtrak derailments include:

— April 3, 2016: Two maintenance workers were struck and killed by an Amtrak train going more than 100 mph in Chester, Pennsylvania. The lead engine of the train derailed.

— March 14, 2016: An Amtrak train traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago derailed in southwest Kansas, sending five cars off the tracks and injuring at least 32 people. Investigators concluded that a cattle feed delivery truck hit the track and shifted it at least a foot before the derailment.

— Oct. 5, 2015: A passenger train headed from Vermont to Washington, D.C., derailed when it hit rocks that had fallen onto the track from a ledge. The locomotive and a passenger car spilled down an embankment, derailing three other cars and injuring seven people.

— May 12, 2015: Amtrak Train 188 was traveling at twice the 50 mph speed limit as it entered a sharp curve in Philadelphia and derailed. Eight people were killed and more than 200 were injured when the locomotive and four of the train’s seven passenger cars jumped the tracks. Several cars overturned and ripped apart.

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Snow reported from Phoenix. Associated Press writers Tom Krisher in Detroit, Martha Bellisle in Seattle and Michelle Liu in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed.

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Faces of the Front Range: Jonathan Alberico is a bonafide bones dealer — and his beetle colony eats them clean

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Faces of the Front Range: Jonathan Alberico is a bonafide bones dealer — and his beetle colony eats them clean

Jonathan Alberico’s Aurora home is teeming with skulls, creepy crawlies, macabre artwork and a collection of poison bottles.

“Aw, man, we’ve been too busy to decorate for Halloween this year yet, but I wish you could see it when we get around to it,” Alberico said.

The bones in Alberico’s home aren’t cheapo plastic seasonal decor. They’re bonafide animal skeletons, and they’re the eccentric 36-year-old’s livelihood.

Alberico is the owner of The Learned Lemur, an oddities shop that opened in a new location this summer — on Friday the 13th, no surprise — at 2220 E. Colfax Ave. in Denver.

The shop, which bills itself as “Colorado’s premier oddities dealer,” is stocked with vintage medical equipment, taxidermied animals, plants and other peculiarities.

But Alberico’s specialty is bones.

The Learned Lemur offers bone and skull cleaning — a service for those looking to tidy up a trophy buck for mounting, clean off a carcass nabbed on a hike or even create a skeletal remembrance of a lost furry friend.

Alberico said he is a stickler for ethically sourced materials and skeletons, but he’s got a few key employees who aren’t on the payroll: colonies of dermestid beetles that live in climate-controlled chests in Alberico’s home workshop that eat the flesh off the bones their boss deposits.

“We clean about 1,500 to 2,000 skulls a year with those guys,” Alberico said. “They’re our hardest working employees.”

Alberico’s home office space likely looks different than yours. His beetle den, with an eau de rotting flesh, features freezers housing their projects and beetle abodes. On a recent October day, a swarm chowed down on coyote and beaver skulls slated for The Learned Lemur’s shelves.

AAron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post

Jonathan Alberico works on a pomeranian-chihuahua mix on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021.

In another room of Alberico’s novelty-laden home, which features enough plants to take on a jungle-like quality, the bones of Werewolf the beloved pup were organized on a tabletop. On his days off from the oddities shop, Alberico spends his time meticulously piecing together bones of clients’ late pets. The animals’ remains are cleaned off by the beetles, go through chemical baths and come out as squeaky clean bones ready to be puzzle-pieced back together into a skeletal tribute.

“I can hear him telling the animals that they were good boys or girls while he works on them,” said Bex Schimoler, Alberico’s partner, who also works at The Learned Lemur.

Alberico grew up on Denver’s historic Antique Row, refining his taste for the weird while digging through old barns and buildings as a kid with his dad on the hunt for treasures for their family’s antique shop.

He remembers playing in his backyard as a kid and discovering a bird skull under a bush.

“I still have that skull, and it’s one of the pieces I’ll always have,” Alberico said. “It was that kickoff moment that made me realize weird stuff is neat. I quickly became bored with what most people considered antiques. Even as a little kid, I started gravitating toward the unusual stuff and bizarre stuff — anatomical models, biohazard suits.”

Now, The Learned Lemur is the amalgamation of years of collecting curiosities. Every item has a history, and Alberico is eager to share.

Take the mink bones he said he obtained after U.S. Fish and Wildlife officers found a rash of wild mink that tested positive for COVID-19 near a Colorado campsite. The agency called on hunting professionals to kill the mink out of fear the animals would pass the disease to humans, Alberico said, and he got dibs on the skulls.

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Speed limits on Denver’s neighborhood streets would drop to 20 mph if councilman’s push succeeds

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Speed limits on Denver’s neighborhood streets would drop to 20 mph if councilman’s push succeeds

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

Contractor Tracy Barker installs a warning beacon on a speed-limit sign in Denver on Wednesday, May 27, 2009.

Denver drivers could soon see speed limits on every neighborhood street drop from 25 mph to 20 mph if an upcoming City Council measure is successful.

The proposal, which Councilman Paul Kashmann plans to introduce in the next month, follows more than two years of campaigning by a local advocacy group to reduce speeds in Denver’s residential areas and an effort by the city to eliminate traffic deaths.

The change to thousands of Denver’s streets could be implemented as soon as next year.

“We get neverending calls from neighborhood residents that cars are going too fast,” Kashmann said. “Part of what we can do is encourage people to slow down.”

City data shows that the per-capita rate of traffic deaths has grown steadily from 5.7 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2012 to 8.4 deaths per 100,000 people n 2019.

Fewer people died or were seriously injured in traffic crashes last year than the previous year as people stayed home at the beginning of the pandemic, but the rates of injuries and deaths have rebounded in 2021, data published by the city shows.

Sixty-six people have died in traffic crashes so far in 2021 and 296 more people have been seriously injured. That’s an average of 36 people injured or killed every month, which exceeds the rate seen in 2019.

Reducing speed limits is a relatively easy, cheap and effective way to quickly prevent traffic injuries and deaths, said Jill Locantore, executive director of Denver Streets Partnership, which has pushed for the speed limit reduction since 2019. But the speed reductions need to be followed by additional infrastructure, like speed humps and raised intersections, she said.

“It’s a statement of values, saying we value safety and human life over the convenience of driving,” Locantore said.

The proposal comes four years into the Denver government’s five-year plan to eliminate traffic deaths in the city by 2030. The plan, Vision Zero, states reducing speed is a priority and cites a study that shows there is a 13% chance a pedestrian will be seriously injured or killed if struck by a car traveling 20 mph. That chance increases to 40% if the car is traveling at 40 mph.

If Kashmann’s proposal is successful, it will take the city between three and five years to swap out the more than 2,700 signs stating the speed limit is 25 mph, said Nancy Kuhn, spokeswoman for the Denver Department of Transportation and Infrastructure.

The department does not have an estimate on how much it will cost to replace the signs, nor does it have money earmarked to do that. Neighborhood streets are typically smaller streets without any yellow center lines.

Kashmann said reducing the speed limit is not a silver bullet and that further changes to street design are necessary.

Reducing speeds is the best way to reduce the risk and severity of injury on roads, said Wes Marshall, associate professor of civil engineering and affiliate professor in urban and regional planning at the University of Colorado Denver.

“Changing the speed limit is a baby step, but the reality is people drive the speed the road is designed for,” he said.

Factors like road width and whether there are cars parked along the street have a greater impact on how fast drivers go, Marshall said.

“We need to make it difficult to drive 20 or 25 mph, and that’s where we get the impacts,” he said.

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For artist Jonathan Saiz, things are looking up

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For artist Jonathan Saiz, things are looking up

A successful art career requires two crucial skills: the ability to think up new things and the drive to make them real. It’s not about creativity; lots of people have that. It’s more about owning the capacity to see ideas through to the end — to produce fresh objects, over and over again, and then to present them to the public.

That stamina sustains Jonathan Saiz and keeps him in the top-tier of Denver artists. He’s an art adventurer who stays in the spotlight by constantly surprising. One day, he’s presenting miniature paintings at the Denver Art Museum, the next he’s applying an oversized mural to a bare concrete wall downtown. He’s been known to paint giant waves or intimate portraits or antique furniture. He’s illustrated a best-selling tarot deck and is now working on a children’s book.

It’s part showmanship, part substance and fully experimental — things don’t always work out. But, as a critic, he’s one of those creatives I always watch to see what arrives next. I recently came across a social media post with photos of a large-scale, and very complicated, mural that he painted on the ceiling of his own living room.

It looked impossible, and so I asked him some questions.

Artist Jonathan Saiz at his downtown Denver home on September 15, 2021. Said spent nearly a month using paper board and balsa wood to create a piece of art for his home that he shares with his partner. The ceiling piece is inspired by temples and Moroccan art. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

Q. I have a lot of questions about your work, but I have to start with the ceiling mural because it is a wonder — delicate and monumental at the same time and, no doubt, very difficult to pull off. Can we begin by getting some specs so people know just how grand it is?

A. The mural is 350 square feet in a two-story atrium of a condo, located 14 stories up in the Uptown neighborhood. It’s painted with regular house latex on thick paperboard panels, nailed to the ceiling with hand-cut balsa wood trimming. It’s not my biggest mural to date, but it is my first ceiling creation!

Q. And how did you manage to create a piece so high off the ground? Sounds a little dangerous, to be honest.

A. It was a scary, stressful ordeal to install. I mostly created the panels on the ground to minimize the dangerous install periods up on the 25-foot-tall scaffolding. My trick to avoid focusing on my fear of heights was to hum and sing made-up songs to my dog Oscar while I worked.

Q. It’s a very orderly mural, full of symmetry and strict geometry. But within that there is quite a bit of free, artistic expression, a mix of styles and historical references and probably some personal moves.

A. The inspiration started with a rose motif from the Bahia Palace in Morocco, but quickly evolved into a mashup of my personal loves of Art Deco, Native American textiles and sacred geometry. Without a client to please besides myself, I was able to experiment — even adding rose oil, rose petals, love notes and other secret magical ingredients into the paint and behind the panels to give it some extra ritualistic energy. I wanted it to become the calm, glowing heart of our home.

Q. I wonder how you view it? Is it decorative to you or is it a painting, a work of art?

A. Decorative art sets the tone for a shared space — design calibrates our energy. This mural is decorative and so much more.

1635165261 648 For artist Jonathan Saiz things are looking up

AAron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post

DENVER, CO – SEPTEMBER 15: Artist Jonathan Saiz at his downtown Denver home on Wednesday, September 15, 2021. Said spent nearly a month using paper board and balsa wood to create a piece of art for his home that he shares with his partner. The ceiling piece is inspired by temples and Moroccan art. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

Q. OK, last question about the piece: What is it like to live with it, to have it over your head all day? We think of artists as making objects to sell, but this one is for you, no?

A. It’s wonderful to see it every day and night, to share it with my partner, Dean Prina, and to finally have something for myself that can’t be sold or removed. Living with it also reminds me that it’s possible to create whatever we imagine we can, (that) we could still build epic temples if we wanted to.

Q. I was looking back at your work over the past few years, and I think the piece you are best known for might be the tower of 10,000 tiny, 2-inch square paintings that you created for the Denver Art Museum in 2019. And you have done many, many of these small pieces in various configurations.

A. Working in multitudes of small pieces to create a larger whole is liberating for me. The pieces can evolve in unexpected ways, and I get to use a much higher diversity of materials. I love working with multiple elements that interact with each other to create a multifaceted whole.

Q. I just saw this new piece you did, taking an old, ornate, antique cabinet, painting it and filling it with mysterious objects. What is that?

A. I found this 19th-century cabinet, dusty and forgotten, in an antique store and I felt I could connect with its history like a time machine. I wanted to preserve it by collaborating with it, creating new clay and gemstone objects within it to activate its theatrical personality and to fill it with 21st-century curiosities. I plan on collaborating with more found historical objects and artisans like that soon.

Q. Another avenue you’ve explored: the tarot deck. Can you tell us about your deck of cards?

A. The Fountain Tarot deck is made up of 79 of my paintings to create a larger interactive world, and its history is deeply connected to our global metaphysical past (a lot like the mosaics and cabinets). It’s a dream to have created something that is now used in multiple languages around the world and was just added to the library at the McMurdo Research Station in Antarctica this month. It’s part of the history of tarot now. It was a random passion project that changed my life.

For artist Jonathan Saiz things are looking up

Provided Jonathan Saiz

Jonathan Saiz created 79 paintings to illustrate “The Fountain Tarot.” The deck, co-created with Jason Gruhl and Andi Todaro, is sold at bookstores across the country.

Q. We’ve seen you create big things and small things, portraits, tarot cards, and I hear you are now illustrating a children’s book for the Clyfford Still Museum. That leads to the existential question: What are you? Most artists describe themselves as painters or sculptors or photographers.

A. I’m a creator who likes to stay busy to keep the existential demons at bay. I’m the type of artist who will dive fully into any type of project or medium if it sparks my curiosity or presents a worthy challenge.

Q. So many artists want to work at it full-time but few manage. Many other talented artists have a hard time making a living from their work. Why are you able to do it?

A. A wide diversity of projects keeps me afloat. And it also helps for me to look at the commerce of being an artist as a game. Some free projects really do pay something more valuable than money, and some projects are worth taking just to survive.

Q. One last big question: You recently pledged to reduce using materials in your art that might be harmful to the environment.  Is that a personal choice? Or do you think that as an artist you have unique social responsibilities?

A. I think 21st-century artists can be powerful agitators for important social causes or they can bury their heads in the sand like past generations. I’m having fun finding creative ways to inspire solutions and making resolutions that create a more sustainable planet. I believe artists must honor that responsibility in order to access the higher creative muses.

Q. Bonus question: What is your dream project?

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