The French tourist was crossing Iowa aboard Amtrak's California Zephyr on Monday night. For some reason, she became agitated, hurrying from seat to seat.
The conductor asked her to calm down because she was disturbing other passengers, according to an account by Montgomery County Sheriff Joe Sampson. But the French woman, Stephanie Carine Hatt, 31, of the Paris suburb of Savigny-Sur-Orge, bolted. The conductor tried to stop her, but she opened a door and jumped from the train. It was going 79 mph through the town of Stanton.
Deputies found Hatt's body near James Street and Broad Avenue on the north side of the tracks after they were called at about 9:50 p.m. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
The woman told the conductor she hated to travel, according to the sheriff. The conductor told her to wait, that they would be in Omaha soon. She sat for a few moments before jumping from the train.
Montgomery County authorities still are investigating what happened. “We don't know if it was an accident or a suicide,” Sampson said. “We don't know what frame of mind she was in.”
Sampson said Hatt had come to the United States on Oct. 30. She had visited Washington, D.C., and Chicago and was on her way to California, traveling alone.
The sheriff was unsure if an autopsy would be performed, though toxicology tests will be done.
Marc Magliari, a Chicago-based Amtrak spokesman, said passengers need to be able to open doors on trains so they can exit quickly in the event of an emergency.
“If someone is determined to exit a moving train, a moving bus or a moving plane they can do so,” he said. “These are rare and often tragic occurrences, but this is not without precedent.”
Sampson is working with the French consulate in Chicago to try to reach Hatt's relatives.
“I just wish we had more answers than questions at this point.”
Tim Johnson of the World-Herald News Service contributed to this report.