A California mother accused of forcing her 8-year-old daughter to crawl under an idling freight train -- that ultimately killed the child -- so the family could catch a bus on the other side of the tracks has been arrested, authorities said.
Fresno police took Joy Frances Collins, 44, into custody Monday on suspicion of child neglect likely to cause great bodily injury or death, police Chief Jerry Dyer said in a news conference.
The girl, Joyanna Harris, died just after crawling under the Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight car after her mother told her and Harris' 9-year-old brother to crawl under so the family wouldn’t miss a bus to take them home, Dyer said.
“A mother placed her daughter in a position where she could be seriously injured or killed, and that’s what we have to look at,” he said. “We have a responsibility to hold that person accountable.”
“A mother placed her daughter in a position where she could be seriously injured or killed, and that’s what we have to look at. We have a responsibility to hold that person accountable.”
The family was near the tracks just before 6 p.m. when the one-mile long train stopped for about 12 seconds and blocked their path to a nearby bus stop. Collins told the kids to rush under, authorities said.
The boy crawled underneath a railcar successfully, while Joy Anna was reluctant, Dyer said Tuesday.
Collins shouted “Hurry up!,” he said.
“Upon being encouraged by the mother to cross the track, she too made her way underneath the rail car and attempted to get to the other side,” Dyer said.
As the girl attempted to cross, the train lurched forward and she became trapped. Collins chased after her and pulled her from the train after she was pulled 500 feet, police said.
She died at the scene from her injuries. Police said Collins had directed her kids to endanger themselves in similar fashion before.
James Whitehead lives just feet from the tracks and saw Harris being pulled by the train, the Fresno Bee reported. He climbed over a six-foot fence that separates his yard from the tracks and gave chase.
"Where’s the kid? Where’s the kid?” he said to himself, according to the paper. “We’ve seen five or six people die on the tracks here, but never a kid.”
Dyer said that while police arrested Collins, he understands that she too is suffering from the loss of her daughter.
"We know that she is hurting," he said. "I hope people understand that there is a balance that we have to achieve in law enforcement. No one last night wanted to arrest the mother for this crime but the law is the law."