Exactly one year ago today on the morning after his 21st birthday, Bryan Brady lay alive but unmoving on the railroad tracks in Paso Robles, despite the thunderous rumble of a train that ultimately struck and killed him.
His family, left with the grief and burden of not knowing why he died, continues to seek answers.
“It’s awful,” said Don Brady, his 49-year-old father. “Knowing what happened would give us some direction that we don’t have.”
While investigators are calling the death an accident or undetermined, the family thinks he was murdered. So far, no one knows why Bryan Brady — an inquisitive young man who’d recently worked to turn his life around — was lying between the rails just north of 12th Street.
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What is known is that Brady was alive when the train hit him, according to the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff-Coroner Department.
In recent weeks, the family has hired a private investigator and is urging anyone who witnessed the night’s events to contact them or police. They hope someone saw the barcode tattoo on the back of Brady’s neck and will recall something that could help.
“There were a few theories that came up,’’ said Lt. Tim Murphy of the Paso Robles Police Department. But, “we (have) exhausted our leads at this point.”
Police also welcome any new witnesses or information.
His 21st birthday
On the evening before he died, Bryan Brady and his parents had been downtown celebrating his birthday until about midnight. When they headed home, they tried to persuade their son to leave with them. He reassured them that he had a ride home. He never came home.
What happened after he and his parents parted ways is unclear.
His parents think their son was knocked unconscious in an after-hours fight downtown and dragged to the tracks. One witness told Kasi and Don Brady that they saw him being carried unconscious through a downtown alleyway around 2:30 a.m. by people who had previously punched him. But that person, whose name and gender were not released, later changed the story when speaking to police. Other witnesses reportedly saw him throughout the night and morning, but the details vary.
Bryan Brady was last seen lying on his side between the rails north of 12th Street — an area with gravel slopes behind businesses — with his feet facing south, when a northbound freight train hit him around 6:15 a.m. The train was traveling 38 mph and hit the emergency brakes. The engineer saw him but was unable to stop the 78-car train in time. The train’s video surveillance show he never stirred as the blaring sound of the engine’s horn blew again and again, according to reports.
No signs of a fight
Brady’s cause of death was listed as blunt force trauma from the train, but there was nothing to suggest what led him to the tracks.
“In any violent death, we are immediately suspicious of foul play, and we work backwards to rule that out,” said sheriff’s department Sgt. Stuart MacDonald.
Deputy Sheriff-Coroner Steve Crawford first handled the case, but has since retired.
According to the coroner’s report, Brady was intoxicated with a blood alcohol content of .20. That’s more than twice the legal limit for operating a vehicle. Authorities say it may have been enough alcohol to leave him unconscious. They are uncertain, though, because people react to alcohol differently, and Brady had consumed alcohol before.
Toxicology reports showed no drugs in his system.
Crawford ruled out homicide because he didn’t find signs of injury that weren’t caused by the train. There were no evident signs of bruising from being hit or punched prior to impact. He also had no recent changes in his behavior or emotions, based on interviews with those who knew him, so Crawford ruled out suicide. If there was evidence that Brady was injured before being struck by the train — such as bruising one can’t see between the layers of skin — it wasn’t discovered because the lack of evidence didn’t prompt additional tests.
Additional tests could have shown whether Brady suffered a concussion, but initial signs didn’t suggest that. There was no pooling of blood under the body, an indicator that an injured victim may have laid in one spot before he died. Brady’s hands and knuckles didn’t show signs of a fight. And no suspicious weapons or rocks with blood or hair were found at the scene or in the surrounding area.
“There was nothing involved to suggest further study,” MacDonald said.
Allegations of a fight didn’t surface until after the body was cremated.
With the few details they have, the Bradys’ lingering questions continue to weigh on them.
On a recent afternoon, Kasi Brady, 45, crumpled a tissue in her hand and held back tears as she looked at photos of her son and his sister, Laura Brady, now 16. The glossy paper memories showed two siblings growing up together: hugging as they slid down a yellow playground slide, posing on a sunny day and laying asleep together, arms entwined.
After her brother died, “Laura wouldn’t let me touch his room,” Kasi Brady said, “wouldn’t let me dust it or vacuum it.”
Months later, Kasi Brady was able to place some clothing in airtight bags under the bed. But she left his bookshelf the way it was. Books on becoming a disc jockey — a hobby he was making a career out of under the name 3Z Entertainment — were stacked neatly among novels and art. The Bradys know their son had difficulties in his teens with drugs, partying and run-ins with the law.“But, for the last year and a half, he had turned things around,” Kasi Brady said.
He paid rent to live at home, spoke about college and cut his once-tousled hair short to look like his father’s. Father and son worked at Robert Hall Winery in Paso Robles.
On the morning of his 21st birthday, Bryan Brady picked a long-sleeve collared shirt for work over his more casual un-tucked style shirts.
“A co-worker said, ‘Bryan, you look like a man today,’ ” Kasi Brady said. “And Bryan said, ‘That’s because I am.’ ”