Elderly woman stranded in Texas after being kicked off Amtrak train, pastor comes to rescue

ByMichael Finney and Randall Yip KGO logo
Thursday, May 2, 2019
Pastor says woman kicked off train is victim of discrimination
The Texas pastor says several people a month are kicked off the train by Amtrak in a small rural Texas town.

PITTSBURG, Calif. (KGO) -- A pastor in a small Texas town is coming to the defense of an elderly Bay Area woman kicked off an Amtrak train by a conductor.

The widow boarded the train in Killeen, Texas, to make the move to the Bay Area to be reunited with her daughter. Mom almost didn't make it.

Juanita Burson-Smith watches over her dog Dudette at her Pittsburg home. Dudette is one of two support dogs that belonged to her late husband. The other is Sunny.

"I'm a big girl, yes I am," Juanita's daughter Tamika says to Sunny.

Burson-Smith rode the train from her former home town of Killeen in Texas. She said everything was fine until a new attendant came on duty. The attendant ordered Burson-Smith off the train in Alpine, saying the dogs were making too much noise -- which she denies. "They weren't. That's what I'm saying because I'm right here in the sleeper car with them. I would know if they were barking," said Burson-Smith.

Burson-Smith was left stranded in a dusty Texas town so small it doesn't need traffic signals.

"We have more cows in the county than people," said Pastor Johanna McLeod, who was notified of Burson-Smith's plight by local police.

"I was scared to death," said Burson-Smith.

Both the pastor and local police brought food to Burson-Smith and put her up in a hotel. They also called Burson-Smith's daughter Tamika. "Of course I was upset with the situation. My mom was very tired, very frail," said Tamika.

Tamika and her boyfriend made the 24 hour drive from the Bay Area to pick her mother up.

Pastor McLeod says she sees two to four passengers a month kicked off Amtrak in Alpine for reasons she doesn't always agree with. She suspects Burson-Smith is a victim of discrimination. "She was a woman, disabled, alone, perhaps because of race -- she was African American," the pastor said.

Burson-Smith contacted 7 on Your Side and we contacted Amtrak. The company gave us a laundry list of reasons someone could be kicked off, ranging from fare evasion to objectionable conduct to health and safety. They declined to talk specifically about Burson-Smith's case, but did agree to refund her ticket.

Juanita is thrilled she reached out to us for help. "It means that there is somebody out there that is on the side of people," said Burson-Smith.

The pastor tells us the Ministerial Alliance she leads has had to help so many stranded Amtrak passengers that her organization has almost gone bankrupt.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.