Residents of Norco are feeling a huge loss after a father and son who were active in the community were killed in a tragic vehicle accident last week.
Emmett Barreca, 56, and James Barreca, 32, were killed on impact when their car collided with an Amtrak train on Tuesday, Jan. 24. A friend of the family said that the two were on their way to get king cake and were in a hurry because James needed to return to his job as a front desk clerk at Best Western.
An outpouring of love and support for the Barreca family was triggered online after the accident, with dozens of community members taking to Facebook to try to make sense of the loss.
Sen. Gary Smith Jr. is a close friend of the Barreca family and was shocked to hear of the two men’s passing.
"James was one of my best supporters and volunteers," Smith said. "He was always willing to get in there and get the job done, and willing to go the extra mile and extra step for anyone he knew…he had a really big heart.
"His dad was a fine man as well – a family man. He was a nice guy; he was always around."
Both men were very involved in the community and were constantly giving back through service.
Emmett was a retired supervisor with Homeland Security, the Kenner Police Department and the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office. He was also a lifetime member of the Norco Area Volunteer Fire Department, Knights of Columbus Red Church Council 3634, Fourth Degree Archbishop Blenk Assembly 318 and the Blue Knights of Louisiana XII.
James followed closely in his father’s footsteps. He was a past Grand Knight of the Red Church Council 3634 and was elected in December as the at-large member of the parish’s Democratic Executive Committee. Smith said that James aspired to become involved in politics. James was also involved with the DHS baseball team, wrote a column for the Times-Picayune while in high school, and was part of a group that helped revive the Norco Christmas parade more than a decade ago. He was working as a front desk clerk with Best Western.
The accident that claimed their lives occurred around 2:50 p.m. near the Jefferson and St. Charles parish line. The two were driving on a private shell road in Emmett’s Jeep Liberty when they came upon the tracks. The road was closed to the public and was only supposed to be used by airport employees and Jefferson Parish law enforcement. While there were signs posted at the railroad crossing, there was no crossing arm.
"The engineer on the train basically said the vehicle pulled out in front of the train and he struck it," said Lt. Wayne McInnis with the Kenner Police Department. "The engineer saw the vehicle, he laid on the horn…we don’t know why (Emmett) didn’t respond to either hearing it or seeing it. We’re not really sure."
McInnis said that the two men were killed on impact when the train pushed the SUV into a ditch next to the tracks. McInnis said that it appears the two men were trying to outrun the train.
There were 63 passengers and eight crew members on the train that were not injured. After an investigation, the train was allowed to continue on its trip from Chicago into New Orleans.
Norco residents and friends of the family agree that the deaths are a huge loss to the community.
"They both are going to be a loss to the community," Smith said. "They were both well-known and well-liked, especially in the Norco community.
"It’s just a tragic event – a tragic accident. It doesn’t seem real."