The family of a gay man found nearly dead next to train tracks in Truckee, California, have said that the police are conducting a “smear campaign” by claiming the alleged hate crime was an “attempted suicide.”
Aaron Salazar, a 22-year-old student at Portland State University, was found left for dead near the tracks in the station at Truckee, California, on May 15. He had been travelling from Colorado to Oregon just before the incident.
Authorities from Amtrak – a long-distance passenger rail service that runs across North America – who are investigating the case have suggested the incident was an attempted suicide, but Salazar’s family believe he was beaten into a coma because he is gay.
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Amtrak’s chief of police Neil Trugman described Salazar as “very distraught,” adding: “All indications right now appear that it was an attempted suicide,” reports This is Reno.
Trugman said Salazar may have tried to kill himself by jumping from the train.
“A fall from a moving train would cause significant injury. There is no physical evidence or witnesses statements to [indicate] a physical altercation occurring on the train,” he said.
“There’s nothing to suggest he involuntarily was removed from that train.”
But, according to a fundraiser set up by the family, Salazar was “attacked” and sustained multiple brain injuries, a broken pelvis, and severe burns on his thigh.
Trugman said that the police had spoken to 300 people as part of the investigation, including passengers and crew on the train, as well as Salazar’s friends, and that the student had been experiencing “life issues.”
Although he acknowledged that a criminal investigation could take place, Trugman added: “There’s nothing to suggest criminal intent in this investigation.”
But in a statement sent to This is Reno on Tuesday night, Salazar’s parents strongly disputed the police chief’s version of events.
“We have many problems with Amtrak’s press conference today,” they said. “First and foremost, Amtrak is a for-profit company that is currently investigating its own case to prevent any liability.
“From the very start, they ruled this case an attempted suicide. Their investigators gave us misleading information, including telling us that they had a witness who saw Aaron jump out a window on the train.
“When we fact-checked their claim and confronted the detective, he simply backpedaled his statement. Amtrak’s investigators only investigated the case as an attempt at suicide.”
The parents said that the Trugman’s claims that “Aaron’s injuries falling from a train are not consistent with what anyone who has seen Aaron can attest to.”
“For one, those burns that were supposedly from jumping out of a train are not consistent with the facts because Aaron’s jeans were not damaged and his injuries themselves do not match jumping out of a train.”
“We are also surprised by this false theory because they have never had medical experts examine his body to determine the cause of his injuries.”
The family went on to compare the case to that of gay man Robin Putnam, who was found dead in August 2015 near train tracks in Elko County. He was last seen in July 2012 getting off an Amtrak train in downtown Salt Lake City.
Putnam’s family are still searching for answers over the cause of his death.
Salazar’s parents said: “Their form of investigation has been little more than a smear campaign to sweep Aaron’s story under the rug like Robin Putnam’s case a few years ago.”
A friend of Salazar, too, has argued that the student was not suicidal.
“Someone who is suicidal does not constantly talk about their future. Aaron had big plans to graduate from Portland State with his degree in Economics and continue his education through graduate school in Denver,” Morgan Patterson, a friend of Salazar’s from Portland State University, told This is Reno.
“He always talked about wanting to be a politician and to be involved in the government. He wanted to be able to make decisions and change the world.”
In recent updates, Salazar is said to have opened his eyes and made good progress under the care of doctors in the ICU of a local Reno hospital. Now the family are demanding answers from Amtrak, which they say is withholding information.
The family’s spokesperson, and Salazar’s cousin, Austin Salias previously said: “We have been asking and calling and they have been withholding even the simplest answers, like where was Aaron found and what time.“
“Simple questions that any parent would like to know. As for his parents, they need answers for their peace of mind. They just want to know their son didn’t suffer in pain for hours and hours.”
They have now sought legal counsel over the handling of the case, Salias added, and are preparing for a long and expensive fight for answers.
The family have become suspicious of the authorities’ handling of the case, accusing them of being slow to respond and declining to answer their questions.