Source: LIRR victims tried to avoid train

A family photo of the two young women

A family photo of the two young women struck and killed by a Long Island Rail Road train in Copiague. Ariana Napolitano, left, and Katherine Sanchez, were both 18. (Credit: Handout)

The two young women from Copiague killed on the Long Island Rail Road's tracks Tuesday evening tried to get out of the way of the approaching train, a source close to the investigation said Wednesday.

It remained a mystery Wednesday why Ariana Napolitano and Katherine Sanchez, both 18 -- described as inseparable by relatives -- were up on the elevated tracks a half-mile west of the Copiague station. The area can be reached by climbing wooded embankments.

The engineer operating the train told authorities that "the teenagers appeared to try to get out of the way," the source said. MTA officials would not release details of the investigation, including why the teens were on the tracks.

Relatives and friends said this much was clear: The two seemed to be looking toward the future.

"She was just 18," Carlos Sanchez said in Spanish of his daughter Wednesday.

The two friends graduated together last year from Copiague High School and planned to enroll in Suffolk County Community College later this year. Sanchez, who hoped to be a pastry chef, planned to study cooking, and Napolitano was interested in photography, relatives said.

At Sanchez's home Wednesday morning, about a dozen friends and relatives were grieving her death and in shock over the loss.

A weeping Carlos Sanchez described his teenage daughter as a happy, friendly person who was very loving and strong. Her mother died in 2000, suffering from a brain tumor and two years later Katherine was diagnosed with lupus and was in treatment, he said.

He said Sanchez had made plans to go to the movies Tuesday night with her sister, Jazmin, 26, but had left home with Napolitano before her sister arrived home.

At Ariana's house, where Copiague high school students brought over doughnuts and coffee, her stepfather Kevin Urban, 53, who raised Ariana since she was a baby, said the teen's mother was devastated.

The night she died, he had picked her up from Staples on Sunrise Highway, where Ariana had just started a job. After they had dinner, Ariana told him she was going to hang out for a few hours and come straight home.

Urban said he saw nothing out of the ordinary with his stepdaughter. "She was a good girl. . . . It'd be better if I had gotten hit by a train. She had her whole life ahead of her," he said.

A group of five friends who showed up to the scene shortly after 5:30 Wednesday evening tried to make it up to the embankment to drop off flowers in memory of the women but MTA police stopped them.

They all pointed to the irony that Sanchez had always said she was afraid of the train tracks. "She was always worried about being around them," said Mike Ryan, 17. "She had a fear of falling in."

Workers and residents on Elm Street near the scene of the strike said Wednesday that they do not typically see people on or near the tracks there. Lifelong Copiague resident Bubba Smith, 50, said the tracks were a hangout for kids until about 15 years ago, when the MTA stepped up enforcement.

LIRR spokesman Sam Zambuto said the two deaths were the first on the railroad's tracks this year. In 2011, 22 people were killed on the LIRR's rights of way. Of those, 10 were deemed suicides.

Zambuto said the LIRR "offers its condolences to the families of the two teenagers."With John Valenti

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