Six months after police found Aaron Salazar comatose along a California railroad track, the Kaiser High School graduate is using his newly regained speech to dispute Amtrak’s claim that he hurled himself out of a moving train in an attempted suicide.
“I want you all to know I did not jump off the train,” Salazar, 22, said on Nov. 28 in a cell phone video his family posted on Facebook. “I would never, ever try to kill myself.”
Salazar, whose voice is now shaky and robotic, is recovering from a brain injury he sustained May 15 while traveling on Amtrak’s California Zephyr.
He went missing from the overnight train as it approached the station in Truckee, California. Police later found him foaming at the mouth and critically bleeding in a remote area along the tracks with no vehicle or pedestrian access. He was in a coma for two weeks.
How Salazar got these injuries is a point of dispute between Salazar’s family and investigators for the Amtrak Police Department.
Amtrak Police Chief Neil Trugman said at a press conference in Truckee on May 29 that Salazar, who is gay, was “very distraught” on the train. He said Salazar appears to have jumped out of the train in an attempted suicide and there is no evidence of a fight or altercation.
Salazar’s family members say they haven’t been given any evidence to support Amtrak’s theory that Salazar jumped from the train — a scenario that’s inconceivable to them. They believe he could have been the target of a hate crime.
Kaiser High School graduate, Aaron Salazar was injured while riding an Amtrak train. Police said Salazar attempted suicide. His family claims he was the victim of a crime.
Contributed by the Salazar family
Aaron Salazar’s grandfather in Hawaii Kai, Michael Mathieu, said the FBI stepped into the investigation in September, collecting a DNA sample from Salazar four days after Civil Beat published a story detailing the Salazar family’s doubts about the Amtrak police investigation.
A spokeswoman for the FBI’s Sacramento field office declined to confirm or deny whether the FBI was investigating.
Mathieu said it’s his understanding that the DNA sample would be used to help in an analysis of Salazar’s clothing to see if an attacker may have been present.
Amtrak told Civil Beat in September that its investigation remains open pending an opportunity to interview Salazar about what happened on the train.
Sonia Trujillo, one of Salazar’s cousins, said she contacted Amtrak last week to alert investigators about Salazar’s speech recovery and his insistence that he did not attempt to injure himself. She said she has not yet heard back from Amtrak.
Amtrak sent Civil Beat the following statement: “We are glad Aaron is improving and look forward to talking with him and any other witnesses as part of the investigation.”
The mystery of what happened to Salazar continues to torment the Salazar family, who have spent the last half-year helping him recover and pushing for an independent police investigation.
Salazar is now settled in his family’s new home in Colorado after spending six months in hospital care. His mother and sister relocated to Colorado from Hawaii to support him.
Salazar receives physical and speech therapy three times per week at Craig Hospital, which specializes in traumatic brain injury rehabilitation. He has limited mobility and cannot walk on his own, his family says.
“He’s very upset about what happened to him,” Mathieu said. “He’s like, ‘Why would anybody do this to me?'”
Mathieu said Salazar wants to move forward with his life and return to his college studies, but “he doesn’t think he could pass a test right now.”
Although grateful for his grandson’s gradual recovery, Mathieu said he wants answers.
“Six months ago we didn’t think he was going to live, so we’re blessed,” Mathieu said.
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