Aaron Salazar’s mysterious injuries received while traveling on an Amtrak train are not the first of their kind. Passengers around the U.S. have been assaulted, raped, killed, and injured while riding Amtrak.
A few of the cases are similar to Salazar’s: passengers receiving unexplained injuries, some causing death, on or near Amtrak trains, or passengers inexplicably exiting trains.
“They tried to blame it on suicide, just like with Aaron.”
Death in Elko
One of those cases is close to home. A death occurred outside of Elko, Nevada in July, 2012 from a Colorado-bound train from Emeryville, California.
“Robin (Putnam) had taken the Amtrak line many times, but we had not realized how unsafe it was,” said Cindy Putnam, Robin’s mom. “He didn’t get off the train (in Colorado), and we were approached by a conductor of the train and a woman. The conductor asked if we were looking for Robin Putnam.”
“The conductor said he had gotten off the train in Salt Lake City at about 3 a.m. with a female, which was unlike him. His laptop and journal were on the train. His dufflebag and backpack were never found.
“It made no sense,” Putnam added.
But Salt Lake City police acted like he never made it there, according to Putnam. Robin’s remains were found in Elko County — three years later.
“The reason it took so long for his remains were never found was because it was in a wash,” Putnam told ThisisReno. “He was underwater for three years, his body only being exposed because of a drought.
“The conductor paged Robin somewhere east of Winnemucca and before the Utah border that he had found Robin’s backpack in the lounge car but did not find him on the train.
“They believe he was robbed and thrown from the train. A gentleman who rode the train with Robin described Robin as bright, classy, and spiritual. He always had his wallet in his back pocket, but he was broke.”
He was coming home to work for his dad.
“His wallet ended up at the end of the line in Chicago,” Putnam explained.
She said that what was found in Elko raised more questions.
“Elko County’s Sheriff assured us an autopsy wasn’t possible,” Putnam added. “In his pockets was his debit card, a BART ticket, lip balm, and a dollar in change — what he stepped on the train with.”
Putnam said, similar to Salazar’s case, that Amtrak was uncooperative and unresponsive.
“We asked to see the videotape (in Salt Lake City) because there is a camera at the train station, and they never allowed us to see it,” she said of Amtrak. “An FBI agent did see the tape and told us Robin did not get off in Salt Lake City.”
The family resorted to other means for getting information.
“It took us filing Freedom of Information Act requests to get any information out of Amtrak,” she said.
Amtrak classified Robin in a report as a “missing passenger/victim,” she added. “We were lied to by Amtrak, and this was a cover up from the very beginning. We never got his backpack and dufflebag.”
Putnam said Amtrak never provided the family with the passenger list despite repeated requests.
“They tried to blame it on suicide, just like with Aaron. We originally thought it might be a hate crime. He’s not gay but he is a very classy guy, he looks like he’s from a wealthy family.”
The cause of death officially remains a mystery. The family is still seeking answers after six years.
Death in Colorado
Another unsolved death on an Amtrak train in September 2017 is said to have frustrated Denver, Colorado’s Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. James Caruso.
Marina Placencia, 28, was found in 2016 dead inside a California-Zephyr Amtrak train car with “a large number of contusions, bruises, 10 broken ribs, and bleeding in her stomach,” according to Fox 31 Denver.
Placencia was a domestic violence victim, allegedly receiving beatings 48 hours before her death, Fox 31 reported.
According to witnesses and the limited public records available, Placencia bought an Amtrak ticket and traveled alive from Milwaukee through Chicago, then to Denver.
Tickets show Placencia and her four children were with her on the passenger train.
As police were still investigating, Caruso continued to question the case even after the ‘undetermined’ ruling of her death.
‘There’s all kinds of red flags in the history here,’ Caruso said. ‘We knew that going in. We’d like nothing more than to come up with another manner of death in this case.’
Because none of the bruises, contusions, or broken bones were likely fatal, Caruso supported the decision to leave the death as unknown.
A year after the death, Placencia’s family was still seeking answers.
“The Denver Medical Examiner documented dozens of injuries to Placencia, including ten broken ribs and bleeding between the skull and brain,” Fox 31 reported. “However, after much deliberation, (he) decided none of the injuries on their own, would have killed her.”
Family members described trying to get answers about her death as maddening.
Deaths in Nebraska, Massachusetts, Missouri, Florida, Arkansas
In 2012, a retired firefighter, Charlie Dowd, 69 of San Mateo, California, was traveling on an Amtrak rail line when he went missing between Denver and Chicago. His death was also mysterious, but his family believes he may have accidentally fallen from the train in Nebraska.
Andrew Haukereid, 79, was found dead near train tracks in Arkansas in 2015. Haukereid was traveling from San Antonio, Texas to Chicago. His family sued Amtrak, but lost the case. The Eighth Circuit Court of appeals indicated Haukereid’s death was likely an accident.
Barbara Arteta‘s body was also found near rail tracks, this time in Georgia. Arteta, 63, was reported missing in 2012. Also an Amtrak passenger, her body was found in Jesup, Georgia. She was traveling with her husband and disappeared while the husband was sleeping. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that her death was ruled as an accident but questions remain as to how she got out of the train.
Pilar Logan, 57 of California, was found dead in Massachusetts in 2015. Logan was traveling on an Amtrak train from Albany, New York to Boston. Her death was ruled an accident after her body was found by train tracks.
An unidentified woman named Rosie was mysteriously found dead in Missouri in 2014. St. Louis’ Fox 2 Now reported the following:
Investigators tell me that Amtrak personnel did find a step stool in front of an open window on the train and that they believe she may have climbed up the ladder and jumped.
But people in Annapolis are skeptical. How does an elderly woman, who already had a bad hip, climb up and out a window on a train that is moving at nearly 50 mph? That’s one of many questions that still must be answered.
These deaths, like with Aaron Salazar’s case, raised numerous questions that Amtrak did not appear willing or able to answer.
This story is developing and may be updated as new information comes in.
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor, and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011, where he completed a dissertation on social media, journalism and crisis communications. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.