Cynthia Silva had always instructed her daughter to keep one of her earbuds out when she spoke on her cell phone or listened to music. She figured that if the teenager tuned out her surroundings, she'd be robbed of the gadget.
Silva had no idea cell phone distraction was powerful enough to end her daughter's life on the train tracks near their home.
But a growing problem that has caught the attention of federal safety officials and train operators played out Monday evening in San Leandro, where 18-year-old Brittney Silva - a college-bound high school senior - was struck by an Amtrak train as she spoke on her phone, just yards from her home.
A man tried to warn the teenager as the train approached at 5:55 p.m. along Hesperian Boulevard, but she "did not respond to the witness, possibly as a result of her not being able to hear him," said San Leandro police Lt. Rick DeCosta.
'Upset and distracted'Brittney Silva had been using earphones while apparently talking with her father, with whom she was having an argument, said her stepfather, Brian Crist. "She was upset and distracted," he said.
The teenager was found 50 yards south of the intersection. Her bright pink phone, which Crist had bought her, was found nearby.
Witnesses told police that the railroad crossing arms were functioning properly at the time of the collision. The southbound Capitol Corridor train came to a stop several hundred yards after the impact, and none of the 83 people aboard was hurt.
Silva was no stranger to danger on the tracks, as Amtrak trains pass by her home daily. Still, she apparently lost herself in her phone call.
"I've told my kids time and time and time again until I was blue in the face - and I will tell all of the youngsters out there - when you're walking down the street and you got your headphones on, keep one headphone in and one headphone out so you can hear the world around you," Cynthia Silva said Tuesday.
"Because I believe that if she had listened to me and done what I said, she would have heard the train coming."
Makeshift memorialA friend of the victim's, 18-year-old Lillian McLean, suggested that Brittney Silva was like many cell phone users: "When she has her headphones in," she said, "she's just in her own little world."
Another friend, 17-year-old Theresa Lavoy, said, "It really taught me that I really need to listen to my surroundings and not just be doing my own thing, because you really can't see the train coming from over here."
The two left flowers at a makeshift memorial along the tracks. During their visit, an Amtrak train hurtled past, sounding its horn. Students at San Leandro High, where earphones are banned, wrote messages of remembrance.
Friends and family mourned the loss of a teenager who they said loved roller coasters, horror movies and animals and overcame a difficult home life to push herself in school and study calculus and chemistry.
She had been accepted to UC Santa Cruz, Humboldt State University and California State University East Bay in Hayward. She had hoped to become a marine biologist or obstetrician to "bring babies into this world," Cynthia Silva said. Her daughter had just opened up her own bank account and had begun a job at a yogurt shop in Dublin.
"She had the whole world in the palm of her hand," she said through tears.
Melody Silva, 11, said her sister "was very nice. She was very respectful, and everyone loved her. She would always dance, and she would always give me great advice about life."
Accidents risingThere are no definitive statistics on the number of distracted cell phone users who have been hit and killed by trains, but authorities say accidents involving pedestrians on cell phones are clearly on the rise.
More than 1,500 pedestrians were treated in emergency rooms in 2010 for injuries suffered while walking and using cell phones, double the numbers from five years before, according to a nationwide survey. More than half of the adult cell phone users in a Pew Research Center survey in 2012 reported bumping into or being bumped by a distracted cell phone user.
Silva's death is the second cell-phone-related train fatality of a teen in the East Bay in recent months. In March, 14-year-old Jenna Betti was killed by a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway freight train in Martinez after she tried to retrieve a cell phone she had dropped on the tracks.
Despite public awareness campaigns focused on pedestrians being distracted by cell phones, "more and more people are being distracted around train tracks," said Amtrak spokeswoman Vernaé Graham.
With a high number of both train lines and open track crossings, California leads the nation in pedestrian fatalities on train tracks each year, said Peter Aadland, executive director of California Operation Lifesaver, which is part of a national rail safety education group.
In 2013, there were 119 deaths on the tracks, compared with 112 the previous year. The statistics cover accidents but do not include suicides.
"I would say that for all these fatalities, they're virtually all preventable," Aadland said. "Anytime you're around a train, a heightened level of awareness to make decisions is encouraged."
Disregarding dangersMany people don't realize how fast trains are going and think they can beat a train, while some regard a railroad right-of-way as a park where they can jog along the tracks or walk their dogs, experts say.
In some case, pedestrians ignore crossing arms and flashing lights to cross tracks after a train has passed, only to be hit and killed by a train traveling in the opposite direction.
I see it all the time... people driving or walking distracted, too caught up in their fucking gadgets to pay attention to what is going on more than two feet in front of their faces. And now, another beautiful young woman is dead, because of these 3x5 inch death devices.
Fuck you Apple, Samsung, and all of you purveyors of death!
Parents... DO NOT GIVE YOUR CHILDREN SMART PHONES. You may as well just give them razor blades to slit their own wrists with. Smart phones make people STUPID. How many more children must die? How much more proof do you need???