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Woman faces drunken-driving charge following train vs. car crash

Sandra V. Mendez Rivera, 31, was arrested following the 3:15 a.m. Sunday collision in which a southbound BNSF Railway freight train broadsided her 2005 Toyota Scion and pushed it several feet down the tracks.
Sandra V. Mendez Rivera, 31, was arrested following the 3:15 a.m. Sunday collision in which a southbound BNSF Railway freight train broadsided her 2005 Toyota Scion and pushed it several feet down the tracks. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

A Bellingham woman is facing a drunken-driving charge after her vehicle was struck by a train early Sunday, Oct. 16, along the waterfront in Old Town.

Sandra V. Mendez-Rivera, 31, was arrested following the 3:15 a.m. collision in which a southbound BNSF Railway freight train broadsided her 2005 Toyota Scion and pushed it several feet down the tracks near the Central Avenue crossing, said Bellingham police Lt. Bob Vander Yacht.

Vander Yacht said the Scion was “high-centered” on a rail and facing in the same direction as the train.

“The engineer could see the taillights of the vehicle ahead on the tracks and immediately activated the train brakes,” Vander Yacht said. “He also gave multiple horn warnings as the distance closed between the train and the car.”

Seconds before impact, the Scion rocked forward and it turned so the driver’s side of the car was facing the train, Vander Yacht said.

Bellingham police officers arrived at the scene first, followed by firefighters, who took Mendez-Rivera to St. Joseph hospital where she was treated for a minor head injury and released, according to a nursing supervisor. The Scion was destroyed.

Vander Yacht said Mendez-Rivera was unconscious immediately after the crash, and “officers noted the strong odor of intoxicants.”

Mendez-Rivera faces charges of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and third-degree driving with a suspended license. The car is registered to a Yakima resident, police said.

After an investigation, the tracks were cleared and normal railroad operations resumed at 8:15 a.m. Sunday, Vander Yacht said.

BNSF Railway spokesman Gus Melonas said the 120-car train originated in Vancouver, B.C, and was hauling general merchandise. It was traveling less than the 45 mph speed limit in the area, he said.

Two trains were delayed by the crash, Melonas said.

Damage to the locomotive was still being assessed Sunday afternoon. The signal and a portion of track also suffered damage.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty

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