Aaron Salazar, the 22-year old gay Portland State University student who was found critically injured and near death on the railroad tracks just outside of Truckee, California last May 15, was well enough to be moved to the Craig Rehabilitation Hospital in Englewood, Colorado. Salazar had been a passenger on Amtrak’s California Zephyr Train traveling from Denver to Sacramento on a return trip to his university in Portland, Oregon.
Sonia Trujillo, Salazar’s cousin and spokesperson for the family, told the Los Angeles Blade Monday, Aug. 13, that the decision to move him was two-fold: to have him closer to family members and because Craig Hospital is globally recognized for specializing in spinal cord injury and traumatic brain Injury rehabilitation.
On Tuesday, another cousin, Austin Sailas, reported the following on Facebook: “I am posting this special update as it is almost three months since Aaron was found and an amazing development has happened…Aaron has once again began to speak. I just spoke to him through Facetime on his mom’s phone, and he recognized me and said hello! We are very excited to share this with our GoFundMe page family. When asked about the train, he sadly cannot remember, which…the doctor said is normal due to a mix of both the injury, and his brain protecting him from the traumatic event, although with time, and therapy he might be able to remember things on his own.”
The investigation into the circumstances surrounding Salazar’s severe injuries has stalled, according to Trujillo. She said that Amtrak investigators and Amtrak’s Police Chief Neil Trugman have ceased directly communicating with the family. Now all communications are being handled by Amtrack’s corporate attorneys. Trujillo added that Amtrak investigators continue to maintain that Salazar intended to harm himself.
Amtrak’s last public statement in May said that the corporation was “deeply saddened by the significant injuries to one of our customers. The Amtrak Police Department reached out to more than 300 customers, crew, and friends in support of this investigation. The individuals who noted interactions with Salazar shared that he had expressed to them a number of life concerns and challenges.”
The statement also noted: “We are unable to comment on Mr. Salazar’s medical condition, but note that a fall from a moving train would cause significant injury. There is no evidence of a physical altercation occurring while Salazar was traveling on Amtrak.”
A spokesperson for Amtrack declined to comment on allegations that the investigation was currently stalled. Instead the spokesperson referred to an earlier statement, also from May; “We have been in contact with Mr. Salazar’s parents and provided them updates on the investigation. Out of respect for the family, we are declining to share any additional details of interviews with customers, crew, and friends and encourage everyone to avoid speculation.”
The family is extremely frustrated by the lack of initiative from the Amtrak police, Trujillo told the LA BLADE and is petitioning to have the Federal Bureau of Investigation take over the investigation. She maintains that the injuries sustained by the young student were the direct result of a horrific beating.
The congressional delegations of both Oregon, where Salazar is a student, and Hawai’i where he resides with his mother, sent official inquiry letters to Amtrak asking for further details after Salazar’s story became public. As of Monday, Aug. 13, they have not received an answer, Congressional sources told the LA Blade.
As Salazar continues to recover in Englewood, the family posted a “thank you” on the “Justice for Aaron” Facebook page linked to the GoFundMe page that the family hopes will help defray the medical expenses they are incurring.
“We would like to take the time to thank everyone in the City of Reno/Truckee, California area. Although this tragedy shook our family to its roots, your people’s love, support, and solidarity has proven that love will always trump hate. The largest small city also has the largest heart. Thank you everyone, we will make sure to keep in touch with the many new friends, and family we met here. Although Aaron has a long road of therapy as he continues to heal, we pray you all will continue to follow our updates, and continue to spread the positive energy, and love as it is definitely working. We love you all, The Salazar Family”
Reporting by the staff of the Los Angeles Blade and wire service reports.