Bret Miller 2009-07-04

Attempt to save dog from train leads to death on ARR tracks
MONTANA CREEK: Owner was off rails but not far enough.

By S. J. KOMARNITSKY,, Published: July 6th, 2009

WASILLA --- A man killed by a train this weekend while trying to save his dog was identified Monday as Bret P. Miller, 42, of Anchorage. Man and dog both died after being hit by a passenger train near Montana Creek north of Wasilla.

Alaska Railroad spokesman Tim Thompson said Miller was walking along the tracks about 2 p.m. Saturday with a group of about a dozen people, all of whom were headed back to a campsite along Montana Creek. The group moved off the tracks when they heard the train coming, Thompson said. But Miller's Labrador retriever ran back onto the tracks.

Miller was struck as he attempted unsuccessfully to rescue his pet, Thompson said.

Miller's brother, Damon Miller, reached Monday in Texas, said it didn't surprise him Bret would go after his dog -- named Porter. His brother, the youngest of four siblings, was working as a cook on the North Slope. He wasn't married, didn't have children and, as far as Damon knew, wasn't dating. Porter was his closest thing to family in Alaska, his brother said.

"That was his pet, his dog. She took care of him. That was his life," he said.

"She was a very big dog. She must have jumped right back on at the last minute," he said. "I think he would have got her off, even if he had to yank the leash. It must have been that quick."

Miller was not on the track itself when he was hit, but was alongside and reaching to get the dog, Thompson said. The train was traveling about 40 mph when it hit him on the stretch of track about a half mile south of Montana Creek. When the crew first saw the group of people, they were standing about 15 feet from the side of the track, Thompson said. But as the train got close, the dog suddenly bolted onto the track and Miller went after her.

"The people knew the train was coming. The train crew sees it. But the dog just darts out in front and he (Miller) just goes to grab," he said.

Thompson said the group was out for a hike as part of the holiday weekend. They had walked south down the Parks Highway from the campground then walked in on a trail to the tracks and were making their way back to the campground.

Thompson said the accident is still under investigation, but there is no indication drugs or alcohol were involved

The fatality was the first for the railroad since July 2005 when 13-year-old Austin Webb was hit near Willow after falling asleep on the tracks. Four others since 1995 have been killed by an Alaska Railroad train while walking or sleeping on the tracks, according to press reports.

In 1999, a 50-year-old Anchorage man was killed by a freight train as he slept with his head on the tracks near Talkeetna. In 1998, a freight train struck and killed a 42-year-old Seward man while he slept on tracks near Seward. One man was killed by a freight train in 1996 and another in 1995 on tracks near Chugiak and Wasilla. One of those deaths was believed to be a suicide, while authorities suspected the other involved an intoxicated person sleeping on the tracks, according to news accounts at the time.

Also in 1995, a 12-year-old Anchorage boy lost both legs when he tried to latch onto a empty freight train as it went by Westchester Lagoon. His legs slipped under a car and were severed.