GBI: Death of woman who fell off train appears to have been an accident

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation could find nothing to point to a crime or a suspect in the death of the 63-year-old Florida woman, whose body was found beside some tracks near Jesup, along stretch of a line from the northeast to south Florida that slices through the piny woods of Wayne County.

Still not known is did Barbara Arteta fall off the Amtrak train early last Sept. 9, did she jump or was she pushed?

According to records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday, the local prosecutor, District Attorney Jackie Johnson, wrote the GBI after reviewing the investigative file that there was not “sufficient evidence to support the elements of a crime or any identifiable suspects.”

The four-volume file concluded “there is no evidence to prove that Barbara’s death was the result of a criminal action. The medical examiner’s autopsy report ruled the cause of death as injuries sustained during the fall from a train and the manner of death has been ruled as undetermined. The investigation into the death of Barbara Arteta has also concluded it is undetermined of the manner of her death and how exactly she departed the train.”

There was nothing to suggest she was pushed, according to the file. Also, her husband and all who recalled seeing her on the train said she was happy, despite the Parkinson's Disease that slowed her.

The conclusion was her death was an accident but the unanswered question is how she fell from the train, according to the file.

Barbara Arteta died on the non-stop trip home after she and husband had visited her daughter in New York and her new granddaughter.

The file details the final hours of her life and how her husband of 26 years  tried to find her.

Eugene Arteta last saw his wife when he left her about 2 a.m. to sleep a few rows back from where they were seated.

Neither could rest in their seat because she was shaking; they had first tried to sleep with Eugene leaning on the glass of the window and Barbara leaning on her husband.

But Barbara was gone when Eugene returned to their seats around 5:45 a.m. At first he just assumed she had already gone to breakfast in the dining car. But when she wasn’t there, he returned to their seats with two cups of coffee and waited.

According to the file, Eugene told investigators he wasn’t worried about his wife even when the train arrived in Sanford, Fla., around 8 a.m. because “she couldn’t go anywhere on a train.”

But the 73-year-old Eugene began to get nervous and angry when his wife could not be found on the train platform or in the station waiting room, he told agents.

Eugene had her paged and then officials searched the train.

Eugene said his frail wife – 5-foot-3 and around 110 pounds – was not strong enough to open doors between cars so he didn’t think she had left car No. 5310. Agents looked into complaints that the doors could not be locked even when the train was moving at an average speed of 50 mph or as fast as 70 mph.

Passengers reported seeing Barbara around 3 a.m. walking around the train car with a pillow tucked under her arm.

It was reported that a window was opened just before 4 a.m. and it was around that time that the train passed between mile markers 353 and 354, where Barbara's body was found. Within an hour and a half, the glass was back in place.

The case agent assigned to the investigation, a petite woman, found the windows easy to open as well as doors between cars, according to Mike McDaniel, who is in charge of the nearest GBI office, in Kingsland in South Georgia.

The doors and windows can be opened while the train is moving without an alarm sounding. The doors close automatically, he said.

“There was no evidence [she] went out the window,” McDaniel said.

Also, investigators could not find anyone on the train who saw Barbara around the window when the glass was missing.

Several passengers interviewed said the trip was “bumpy” and those who saw Barbara said she was unsteady, needing to hold on to backs of seats or her husband’s belt as she moved through the train.

Later that afternoon, the crew on a CSX train spotted Barbara’s body on a strip of grass between a rock bed and the tree line.

Her purse, with $400 inside, was still on her shoulder and the two pillows she had been seen carrying were beside her.

The report noted that Eugene reacted with anger, not tears, when he was told his wife’s body had been found. The agent wrote, Eugene said “Barbara didn’t deserve this and he had always looked after her.”

Eugene Arteta could not be reached for comment Tuesday.