SOUTH SALT LAKE — A 19-year-old homeless man had his leg amputated Thursday after being trapped under sheets of metal on a railroad car for about eight hours.
Authorities said the man was discovered by a railroad worker about 1 p.m. near 650 W. David Road (2190 South). Officials said the man had apparently hopped the Union Pacific freight train in Denver, along with his dog.
The open railroad car was carrying sheets of steel between 10 feet and 15 feet long, South Salt Lake Fire Chief Ron Morris said.
"At some point, the steel shifted and fell on top of him," Morris said. "It pinned him from the waist down."
The man's dog also was trapped under the steel and was killed in the accident.
"We believe (the man) was in there for maybe eight hours before he was found," Morris said.
The man, whose name was not released, was conscious and alert when fire crews arrived, Morris said.
It took more than two hours to extricate the man from the railroad car. A surgeon was flown from University Hospital to amputate the man's leg.
"It was a very tedious, very slow extraction," Morris said. "The surgeon brought some canopies and sterile sheets with him. We sort of made a MASH unit on scene."
The man was later airlifted to University Hospital in critical condition.
Situations like this happen all too often, says Vern Keeslar. His organization, Operation Lifesaver, goes into shelters to educate the homeless about train safety.
But trespassing is the leading cause of train related deaths in the United States — more than 400 people died last year alone.
"We don't call them accidents because you don't have to be on that (railroad property)," Keeslar said. "No one's putting you up on a trestle, no one is putting you up inside a rail car; you don't have to be there."
But Union Pacific says the tracks are all too tempting for some, and oftentimes they end up losing a limb.
"Oftentimes it's romanticized, and that couldn't be further from the truth," said Dan Harbeke, with Union Pacific.
The man injured Thursday may be charged with trespassing.