Shawn Potter, a 15 year old from California, lost his life playing chicken on train tracks with friends several years ago.

Robin Potter with a photo of her son Shawn

Robin Potter, mother of three teenage boys from Fresno, CA, won't forget calling her middle son, 15 year old Shawn, one evening during spring break a few years ago. Work had been hectic so she was a little late leaving to pick him up. Shawn, she remembers, was out of breath. He told his mother he was 'just running around.' To Robin, that sounded perfectly normal. Handsome, blue-eyed, blond-haired Shawn loved playing baseball and football, so Robin figured he was with friends enjoying a ball game in the park near his friend's house.

He didn't dare tell the truth, that he and friends were playing chicken on local railroad tracks, waiting for a train to come through so they could have the thrill of jumping off seconds before it roared past. As one approached, his two friends jumped clear, but Shawn, always the competitor, stayed on just a hair too long. The train hit, clipping Shawn and throwing his body yards from the tracks. The force of the collision severed his spinal cord in half and caused massive internal injuries. Though surgeons at a local hospital fought to save him, within five hours he was dead.

Today Robin Potter is haunted by the things her son will never do: He won't get his license, he didn't graduate with the rest of his class this spring, he never went to his prom. "My son Shawn lost his life because he thought he could outrun a train," says Potter, now an active spokeswoman for California's Operation Lifesaver. "Shawn knew that trains are dangerous, he knew better than to be on those tracks that day, but he didn't think he was going to get hit - he didn't think it was going to happen to him. This can happen to anybody and the message is simple: Staying away from tracks is common sense and it can save your life."

About Operation Lifesaver

Operation Lifesaver is a nonprofit public safety education and awareness organization dedicated to reducing collisions, fatalities and injuries at highway-rail crossings and trespassing on or near railroad tracks. Our team consists of nationwide network of volunteers who work to educate people about rail safety, state coordinators who lead the efforts in states across the U.S. and a national office in Washington, D.C., that supports state programs, develops education materials, and creates public awareness campaigns for audiences of all ages. 


National Office

Operation Lifesaver, Inc.
425 Third Street SW, Suite 915
Washington, D.C. 20024

Fax: 703-519-8267
Email : [email protected]

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