Mother Arrested After 8-Year-Old Girl Dies Trying to Crawl Under Freight Train

December 19, 2018 Updated: September 30, 2019
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Californian authorities have arrested a mother suspected of forcing her 8-year-old daughter to crawl under a freight train so that the family could catch a bus.

Joy France Collins, 44, was arrested on Dec. 17, Fresno police said, after her daughter, Joyanna ( also written as Joy Anna) Harris was killed when she crawled under the idling train.

Joyanna’s 9-year-old brother had already successfully crawled under the train, police chief Jerry Dyer said, according to Fox, adding that Joyanna was hesitant to go.

“Collins shouted, ‘Hurry up!'” Dyer 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.

The mile-long train had stopped for 12 seconds and was reportedly blocking the family’s route to a bus that Collins wanted the family to catch. She had made the children take such measures in the past, authorities said.

But as Joyanna was trying to cross the tracks, the train suddenly lurched forward, the girl was trapped underneath and dragged 500 feet before her mother was able to free her.

The 8-year-old died at the scene from her injuries.

Fresno resident David Hunt told ABC30, “There was nothing that could prepare me for what I’ve seen.”

He added, “My head is still spinning trying to grasp what was going on. Other than that I’m thanking God that my kids all made it home tonight.”

Hunt said his 10-year-old son Andre had been playing on the tracks.

“He’s nonstop crying, all he’s saying is it could’ve been him, it could’ve been him,” he said.

‘We Know That She Is Hurting’

Dyer said that although Collins had been arrested, he was aware that she would also be suffering after the death of her daughter.

“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.”

Because it was dark at the time Collins asked her children to cross and Joyanna’s reluctance, authorities have determined that Collins was negligent.

“We know that she is hurting,” Dyer added. “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.”

Dyer said that child protective services had prior contact with Collins.

Local man James Whitehead climbed over a fence to chase the train as Joyanna was dragged along, the Fresno Bee reported.

“Where’s the kid? Where’s the kid?” he said to himself, according to the outlet. “We’ve seen five or six people die on the tracks here, but never a kid.”

Whitehead said a fence needs to be built between the tracks and homes.

Collins has been charged on suspicion of child neglect likely to cause great bodily injury or death.

Follow John on Twitter: @jdsmithies