As happens too often in San Joaquin County, a person was killed on the railroad tracks on Tuesday night. Many times, it's a transient or suicidal person who loses their life on the rails. Not this time.
Friends and family say Anthony Antolin, whom they called Tony, was as selfless as they come, and his death was not only a tremendous shock, but very premature. The 41-year-old was as healthy and vibrant as could be, said Albert Monte, 24, who knew Antolin for nearly 20 years.
There is little known about how or why Antolin decided to sit on the railroad tracks just north of Kettleman Lane on Tuesday night, but police say he did move as an Amtrak train approached around 10:30 p.m. His green backpack was left between the rails, though, and in his attempt to get it back, Antolin was struck by the train.
He didn't have much of a chance against the massive engine traveling at 65 mph, and his life ended in the city where he had spent most of his life. Born in Reedley, Antolin was a Tokay High School graduate who worked in various trades, such as glasswork, construction and cabinetry.
A small makeshift memorial now sits near the spot where Antolin took his last breath, on a desolate section of track in an industrial park. Three candles sit amongst a small hill of rocks, surrounding a small picture of Jesus with a two-foot wooden cross rising above it all. Albert Monte, his older brother Phil Monte, 27, and Antolin's brother, Bryan Antolin, 37, erected the memorial. The spot of the accident is half a mile from the nearest railroad crossing, making the memorial unlikely to be seen by many, other than passing train engineers.
There isn't much closure for those Antolin left behind, Phil Monte said: only disbelief, pain and anger over the loss of a man he called a father figure. Monte first met Antolin at the Lodi Boys and Girls Club when he was just eight years old, and Antolin was mentoring there. Not long after that, Antolin became a baby-sitter to Monte and his two younger brothers, and a lifelong friendship was born.
Antolin, an ardent sports fan, got Monte involved with sports — even took him to his first baseball game. When Monte played baseball growing up, whether it was practice or a game, Antolin was always nearby, even coaching sometimes. And he always made sure his presence was known.
"He was so loud, always yelling for us," Monte said with a chuckle. "(We'd say), 'Tony made it to the game today. I can't see him, but I hear him.'"
But their relationship extended beyond sports: Monte said Antolin helped fill a void when his parents separated during his childhood.
"He was everything you could ask for in a mentor: a guardian, a dad, a brother," Phil Monte said.
For Antolin's own brother, the relationship was much the same. Bryan Antolin said Antolin never hesitated to scold him when he stepped out of line, but would always tell him he loved him afterward. Bryan Antolin's wife and four kids were close to Antolin as well, and they are all struggling to understand how this could have happened, Bryan Antolin said.
But the loss of Antolin may have been hardest for Albert Monte. The two had been working a job in the railroad tie business together recently, and Albert Monte said they hung out every day. Despite knowing each other since Albert Monte was just five years old, he said they never once had an argument, and Antolin showed Albert Monte the same dedication Phil Monte received by going to his football and baseball games.
"He had the biggest heart," said Albert Monte, who spoke to Antolin just hours before he died. "Last time I talked to him, his spirits were really high. He was really happy."
Antolin had been struggling with bills in recent years, Bryan Antolin said, and had lived with him and his family in Lodi for the past couple of months. But Bryan Antolin said his brother had begun to turn things around and had recently gotten his new job working with Albert Monte, and was delving deeper into his faith. Antolin was practically an atheist earlier in his life, Albert Monte said, but was now praying often and "had brought God into his life."
Now all that's left of that life is the legacy he leaves with those who will miss him. And to hear his brother and the Monte's tell it, it's quite a legacy.
"We all think about what our lives could have been without him," Phil Monte said. "If he wasn't around, who knows what would have happened to us; what we would have done, or who we would have been around."
"The world lost a good person," Albert Monte said.
Contact reporter Fernando Gallo at email@example.com.