By Patricia Maresch, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A tragic accident caused the death of a 24-year-old French tourist while riding the bonde (streetcar) that runs from Largo da Carioca in downtown Rio de Janeiro, to Santa Teresa. As the bonde passed the Arcos da Lapa, the famous white aqueduct, the man leaned out of the tramcar to take a picture of himself and lost his balance. He fell, passing through a gap in the safety fence, dropping fifteen meters to the street below and died instantly.
The victim was identified as Charles Damien Pierson, at the time of the accident he was accompanied by a German woman and fellow tourist. According to her, they had met the night before at a hostel in Copacabana where they both stayed.
The French victim was traveling with a group, she said. On his body, the police found a copy of his passport, a map of Rio and some money. Eyewitnesses say street kids stole the tourist’s camera right after his body fell down on the pavement below the Arcos da Lapa. The police only found the camera cord in the victim’s hand.
The assistant chief of the Fifth Precinct, Leonardo Salgado, who investigates the case, has pointed out the suspected bad condition of the safety net (a metal fence) alongside the rails of the Arcos da Lapa. “It seems to be in bad condition,” Salgado confirmed.
He told Brazilian press the police will also investigate whether it is actually allowed for passengers to stand inside the bonde. “First we have to establish responsibility, but if it is forbidden to stand outside the bonde, the accident can progress into a manslaughter case,” the assistant police chief said.
Taking the bonde costs R$0.60 (US$ 0.38), and since the cars are open-sided with wooden cross-benches, it often leads to passengers hopping on-and-off and passengers hanging alongside the tram for free rides. That usually happens though, only after the bonde crosses the Arcos da Lapa and heads up the hillside of Santa Teresa.
In a statement issued by Rio’s Department of Transportation – responsible for the operating of the Bonde – the tram left Carioca station with forty people on board, which is the maximum allowed and no one was standing inside or hanging alongside the bonde.
“As a safety measure, when crossing the Arcos da Lapa, trams reduce their speed to just five kilometers per hour to reduce any possible risk to the physical safety of its passengers,” the statement read. It also said that less than a week ago the Department of Transportation, had signed a contract for the complete restoration of the safety net bars alongside the Arcos da Lapa.
The Bonde is one of the oldest streetcar lines in the world and the oldest electrical tram in Latin America. It is mostly a tourist attraction and follows a circuit from downtown Rio, passing the 45-meter-high Arcos da Lapa, into Santa Teresa, offering magnificent views of the city.
The French consulate has contacted the family of Charles as his body will be transferred to France as soon as possible.