The Truckee, California Police Department today issued a statement clarifying the agency’s role in the case of Aaron Salazar, who was found critically injured last week on train tracks in or near Truckee.
“First and foremost, our most sincere and heartfelt thoughts are with Aaron, the Salazar family, and his friends. We are worried for Aaron, and want him to quickly recover,” wrote Rob Leftwich, Truckee Chief of Police. “It is the policy and best practice of most public safety organizations to not comment on another agency’s investigation, particularly if that investigation is active.
“However, since much of the information that is circulating on social media and in some news stories is inaccurate, speculative, or simply false, the Truckee Police Department would like to clarify a few things.”
Leftwich said the department responded at about 11:30 a.m. to a call about a person lying near the tracks at the far east end of Truckee.
“It was almost immediately discovered that Aaron was a ticketed passenger on the west bound Amtrak train that had passed through Truckee earlier that morning,” Leftwich said. “Because the incident originated and appeared to be entirely contained on the Amtrak train, the Truckee Police Department turned over the investigation after our preliminary response.
“Aaron never disembarked in Truckee, as he never made it to the Truckee station, and there is no information to suggest Aaron had any connection to Truckee or interactions with anyone from Truckee.”
Salazar’s family said that Renown personnel have said that his injuries appear consistent with being beaten. Salazar had no history of depression or suicide, Sailas told ThisisReno on Saturday.
Salazar texted his grandmother in Hawaii about 30 minutes before he was found critically injured.
“I have a layover before getting on the next train,” he texted his grandmother. “I made a friend on the train and we’re going to go get some food and explore…”
The layover is presumed to be referencing a long layover in Sacramento.
Family, Critics Dismayed by Lack of Response from Amtrak
Salazar’s family said that Amtrak’s Police Department, which has jurisdiction over the train and rail line, is not providing even the most basic of information.
Amtrak issued a new statement about the case.
“The Amtrak Police Department is conducting an ongoing investigation into this incident,” said Amtrak spokesperson Jason Abrams. “The police department has conducted numerous interviews with customers, crew members, family and friends, as well as reviewed other available data and sources.
“After reviewing all the available material, the FBI was contacted and made aware of this investigation. At this time, there is nothing to suggest criminal intent. We have been in contact with Aaron’s parents and provided them updates on the investigation.”
Salazar’s family raised their GoFundMe campaign goal in order to hire an attorney to assist with getting answers from Amtrak.
“(Aaron’s) fight has just begun, even with the public outcry the Amtrak (police) department still wishes to brush this aside as a suicide, and continue to not provide any new information,” said Salazar’s cousin Austin Sailas. “At this point we as a family have decided it is time to get legal help, and expert advice.
“Amtrak is a very powerful company which has full jurisdiction over its investigation due to the Patriot Act. In order to fight this false narrative that he jumped and get justice for our brave cousin we are requesting your help.”
Salazar’s family is asking for people to pray for him, and his condition is improving. Salazar is no longer under medically induced sedation and has been opening his eyes.
Amtrak Police’s Checkered Legacy
Amtrak’s Police Department has seen noted controversies in the past. In 2015 an Amtrak officer was sentenced in federal court for embezzling union funds.
Last year, an Amtrak officer was charged with murder for shooting an unarmed man in Chicago. In 2016, Amtrak’s police chief was under investigation for alleged fraud and ethical violations. She eventually resigned.
Amtrak passengers, according to The Atlantic, have also complained about harassment by the company’s law enforcement for things like:
- Carrying little or no luggage
- Purchase of tickets in cash
- Purchase of tickets immediately prior to boarding.
Truckee PD Statement
A message from Chief of Police, Robert Leftwich, regarding the recent Amtrak train incident:
Recent media reports and social media posts have suggested that a young man named Aaron Salazar was found along the railroad tracks in Truckee, CA and that he was possibly the victim of an assault and hate crime that occurred in Truckee. It is the policy and best practice of most public safety organizations to not comment on another agency’s investigation, particularly if that investigation is active. However, since much of the information that is circulating on social media and in some news stories is inaccurate, speculative, or simply false, the Truckee Police Department would like to clarify a few things.
First and foremost, our most sincere and heartfelt thoughts are with Aaron, the Salazar family, and his friends. We are worried for Aaron, and want him to quickly recover.
We are not actively involved in the investigation and do not know what happened to Aaron or what the investigation might reveal. Amtrak is the most appropriate authority for this investigation being that all information indicates that the incident was confined to occurring on an Amtrak train. Amtrak Police clearly have jurisdiction over incidents connected to their trains and it is important to allow the investigative process to divulge what likely happened.
On May 15, 2018, at approximately 11:30 a.m., the Truckee Police Department responded to a call regarding a person lying near the railroad tracks at the far east end of Truckee. When officers arrived, they located a person with significant injuries laying only feet from the railroad tracks. That person was quickly identified as Aaron. Officers assisted with medical aid, and Aaron was transported to Renown Medical Center in Reno, NV.
It was almost immediately discovered that Aaron was a ticketed passenger on the west bound Amtrak train that had passed through Truckee earlier that morning. Because the incident originated and appeared to be entirely contained on the Amtrak train, the Truckee Police Department turned over the investigation after our preliminary response. Aaron never disembarked in Truckee, as he never made it to the Truckee station, and there is no information to suggest Aaron had any connection to Truckee or interactions with anyone from Truckee.
The Truckee Police Department will never allow a conspiracy or cover-up to occur regarding any incident or investigation. Any suggestions to the contrary reflect a lack of factual information or knowledge of our organization and community. The Truckee Police Department will also never allow a crime against the LGBTQIA community to go unaddressed or uninvestigated. A case where a hate crime was committed would be addressed to the fullest extent of our capabilities. The Truckee community is not in danger and never was. We did not release information out of professional courtesy to Amtrak and to protect the investigative process as well as the confidentiality of the Salazar family.
We understand how frustrating it can be to not have all the information when there is genuine concern and a desire to help. The Truckee Police Department has no control over the release of substantive information in this incident, since another agency is handling the investigation. We do ask, out of respect for Aaron, his family, and for the investigative process that speculation, guessing, or rumors not be the basis for drawing conclusions.
Any information that might help the investigation or any requests for information should be directed to Amtrak Police at (800) 331-0008.
Keep Aaron and his family in your thoughts.
Chief of Police, Truckee Police Department
This story is developing and may 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 research appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.