Kassidy Kanner said she didn’t know the man who stepped in front of an Amtrak train and killed himself in Leucadia on March 15.
But the death resonated with her and prompted her into action to try to prevent future suicides along the rail corridor.
Kanner, 18, is the teen behind a petition that demands officials to erect suicide prevention signs along the railroad right of way.
Her petition, on the site Care2.com, has blown through the original goal of 11,000 signatures and is fast approaching 13,000 signatures in less than one month of gathering.
“It has been overwhelming and quite amazing, honestly,” Kanner said. “I think the more people come together to prevent suicides, the better.”
Officials with the City of Encinitas and the North County Transit District – which owns the railroad along which the Coaster, Amtrak and BNSF trains traverse and the adjacent right of way- have learned about Kanner’s signature effort, and applaud her for bringing awareness to the issue.
A transit district spokeswoman said that efforts have been underway to install those signs before the signature drive, but said that Kanner’s efforts have brought it to the forefront of the organization.
“North County Transit District applauds Miss Kasser for being so diligent in promoting suicide awareness and gaining the support of her fellow residents,” NCTD spokeswoman Kimberly Wall said.
Kanner, a senior at Sunset High School, said she and her boyfriend witnessed the gruesome aftermath of the March 15 suicide. She said the incident shocked her and “shook up” her boyfriend.
Later she was shocked to learn that, unlike on places like the Coronado and Golden Gate bridges, there are no signs along the corridor with phone numbers to suicide prevention hotlines.
“I was walking up and down the tracks and I noticed there weren’t any signs, and it was something that just made me pretty angry and startled,” Kanner said.
Kanner took it upon herself to tape up paper signs with a suicide prevention hotline along the tracks. She then posted pictures of her signs on her social media pages to see if she would get any feedback.
“I wanted to see if more people would put up their own signs and spread the word up and down San Diego,” Kanner said. “That’s when I got the idea of the petition.”
Her petition was originally addressed to former Encinitas Mayor Kristin Gaspar, but has since been changed to current Mayor Catherine Blakespear.
“There are a growing number of train-related suicide attempts in my area. Unfortunately, most have been successful,” the petition header reads.
“In my hometown of Encinitas, just north of San Diego, more and more people have taken their lives in train-related tragedies. Currently, there are no signs posted with a crisis hotline number or any suicide prevention information. I am especially concerned with Leucadia Boulevard, along the 101 highway.
“This NEEDS to change. There NEEDS to be signs posted by train tracks giving people a number to reach if they are struggling,” the petition concludes.
The petition caught the attention of Care2.com’s marketing team, which reached out to Kanner on March 22 to tell her they would feature her signature gathering campaign on the website.
“The first day the site got involved, there were 2,000 signatures,” Kanner said. “And the signatures were from all over the place, across the world. It has really been humbling.”
Blakespear said she learned about the petition over the past few weeks, and said she was impressed by Kanner’s efforts.
“I applaud this young lady for her care and concern for our community,” Blakespear said. “I am interested in doing whatever it takes to make our railroad corridor safer. If suicide prevention signs save just one life then they are worth doing, and she has brought it to our attention and I think it is something we should look at.”
The transit district has grappled with the issue of rail safety over the years. This year alone there have been 11 incidents in which a train has struck a person trespassing on the tracks, six of which have been fatal incidents.
Wall said that the transit district has taken numerous actions to limit trespassing on the rail right of way, which in theory would cut down on the number of suicide attempts on the tracks. These measures include safety indicators along the tracks, as well as “no trespassing” signs throughout the corridor.
Wall said the transit district also partners with the nonprofit Operation Lifesaver to give presentations about rail safety to students throughout the county.
The transit district’s ultimate plan to limit trespassing involves fencing off the tracks and adjacent right of way, but a number of communities have panned the plan as it limits beach access.
Wall said there are no immediate plans to fence the corridor.