PITTSBURG, California -- A pastor in a small Texas town is coming to the defense of an elderly California woman kicked off an Amtrak train by a conductor.
Juanita Burson-Smith boarded the train in her hometown of Killeen, Texas, with two support dogs that belonged to her late husband. She was making the move to the Bay Area to be reunited with her daughter.
She said everything was fine until a new attendant came on duty. The attendant ordered Burson-Smith off the train in Alpine, Texas, saying the dogs were making too much noise, which she denied.
"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," Burson-Smith said.
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," Burson-Smith said.
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," Tamika said.
Tamika and her boyfriend made the 24-hour drive from the Bay Area to pick her mother up.
Pastor McLeod said 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 our sister station KGO-TV in San Francisco and they contacted Amtrak. The company gave them 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.
"It means that there is somebody out there that is on the side of people," Burson-Smith said.
The pastor said the Ministerial Alliance she leads has had to help so many stranded Amtrak passengers that her organization has almost gone bankrupt.
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Elderly woman stranded in Texas after being kicked off Amtrak train, pastor comes to rescue