Edmonton man Justin Theroux, 42, is in hospital with a fractured skull after being hit by a Valley Line LRT train this past weekend.
According to the Edmonton Police Service, the collision occurred north of the Holyrood LRT station, near 85 Street and 93 Avenue, just after 6 a.m. Sunday.
Police said the man had been hit by the train while sleeping along the tracks and was taken to hospital in critical condition with serious head injuries.
“Finding out he was hit by a train…that’s nuts,” said his sister, Shelley Reid.
The sisters said their brother didn’t have identification on him at the time of the collision and it took much of the day for police to track down his family.
His other sister, Lindsay Balmer, said her brother had been without stable housing for years, and was likely seeking shelter on Sunday morning.
“He’s homeless. He has an addiction problem. We’re very aware of this,” Reid said, adding in the past her brother had stayed with family but in recent months, spent more time on the streets.
“There’s a lot of homeless people in this city and it’s unfortunate. And they seek shelter and they want to be close to things like (transit),” Reid said.
“If you’re put in a desperate situation, he may have felt that was his only option.”
The sisters can’t wrap their heads around why their brother was laying on the tracks where the yet-to-open Valley Line has been conducting testing.
Reid said she suspects her brother didn’t realize the space wasn’t safe for him.
The 13-kilometre Valley Line southeast from Mill Woods to downtown is different from the current high-floor LRT system that the Edmonton Transit Service operates.
“It’s a bit higher up than the ground and not next running along the traffic. And there’s usually barricades along the side and definitely not any residents right next to the tracks,” Balmer said of the existing design for the Capital and Metro lines operated by the Edmonton Transit Service.
The Valley Line, built and being operated by public-private partnership contractor TransEd, features low-floor, urban-styled trains that provide more pedestrian-friendly access with street-level stops.
There are no crossing arms and go up and down, or audible bells to warn of an approaching train.
The design of the line is meant to integrate the route into the community, but the sisters believe it comes with consequences.
“The trains are very quiet,” Reid said.
Reid and Balmer have concerns about a lack of fencing, barriers and noise alerts along the Valley Line.
“There’s kids around that area. They could run out the door. Pets too. There’s nothing stopping people from just running across those tracks,” Reid said.
They worry about slow-moving seniors or people who are hard of hearing.
“Maybe there will be lessons learned from what happened to our brother and they will make changes so this doesn’t happen to anyone else,” Reid said.
Reid said her brother is street smart and it seems out of character for him to be in a careless situation.
“You should know better, not to sleep right on train tracks. So I would just like a little more details as to, was he really sleeping there and did he trip, not knowing he was crossing tracks and might have went down?”
Balmer and Reid would like to see video footage from TransEd around the time Theroux was hit. They are waiting to see if transit cameras may have captured the incident.
“What if he tripped? We still aren’t sure,” Reid said. “There was no sleeping bag nearby. More details would be appreciated for sure.”
In the days since the collision, the sisters said Theroux has been recovering in an Edmonton hospital with a brain injury.
Theroux’s condition has improved but he hasn’t been able to share his side of the story. Though he’s not yet fully conscious or able to talk, the sisters said he recognized them.
“He has a huge family and we all love him,” Reid said. She said her brother loves fishing, camping, cooking, the Edmonton Oilers and is a kind, helpful person.
“When he is sober and when he’s around family, he’s amazing. Of course, taking to the streets and having an addiction … it changes people, makes them behave in ways that is probably not indicative of who they really are.”
The family wants Edmontonians to know Theroux isn’t “just another homeless person.”
“He is somebody’s family member and he is loved. We are here for him,” Reid said.
The family has set up a GoFundMe to help cover medical bills. It says the family also intends to seek legal counsel.
TransEd has ramped up Valley Line testing in recent weeks but as has been the case since last year, there is still no confirmed timeline for when the line will be open to passengers.