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'The last hug I was going to get': Douglas County mother remembers, grieves loss of teenage son hit by train

"To get anywhere, I have to walk by his room," the mother said. "I just picture him in there — he's just there. But he's not."
Joey Catalioto
Posted at 5:21 PM, Nov 21, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-22 01:01:19-05

CASTLE ROCK, Colo. — "I'm Joey's mom."

Pamela Catalioto spoke quietly in a room at the Castle Rock Library and through tears, remembered the kindness and quirky ways of her teenage son, who was full of passion for classic cars, music and stereos. Several photos of him were splayed in front of her.

Joey, 16, died on Nov. 2 after he was hit by a train near Platte Avenue and Karcher Street in Sedalia. He was Pamela's youngest son.

"This was just one of the last photos I got of him," the Castle Rock mother said, holding up one of the photos. "He wasn't much for posing for pictures. And I just told him to give me a nice smile. A genuine, nice smile."

Joey Catalioto
Joey Catalioto

He was "book smart" — though he didn't believe it himself — and cherished his small friend group at Castle View High School, she remembered. She described him as having a good heart.

"He was a good kid. He was adventurous," she continued. "He liked food and to eat a lot. He was really into audio and speakers, building custom speakers. And classic cars. He wanted to build them from the ground up. And that was his thing. It was what he wanted to do."

Joey often went for nature walks and bike rides around downtown Castle Rock. He also visited a local "car graveyard" that held a bunch of classic cars, she said.

"He found it sad that they were just dumped there," she said.

All the while, he was often listening to music — playlists that Pamela now has on replay.

Joey enjoyed walking on the tracks, she said, often just to clear his head, listen to music and soak up the sunshine. He told his mother that he did not turn up the music's volume too much and was always aware of his surroundings, she said.

'The last hug': Castle Rock mother grieves loss of teenage son hit by train

The day before the crash, while Pamela was working from home, Joey came up behind his mom and wrapped his arms around her in a hug for about a minute before leaving for school, Pamela said. He didn't say anything — just hugged her.

"I kind of patted his arm, but he stayed there a really long time," she said. "Longer than I expected... And I didn't know that was the last hug I was going to get."

The next day a little after 3 p.m., when Joey didn't come home from school, Pamela used the Find My app to try to track down his phone, which was near the tracks. It was just before the crash.

Pamela remembered wondering if she should drive to go get him and bring him home, but decided instead they would have a stern conversation at home about updating his mom on his whereabouts.

After some time, the little piece of concern inside Pamela grew into frustration that he was not answering her calls and texts. Around this time, she decided to go to where his phone had last pinged, with her daughter driving while Pamela watched Joey's location on her phone.

As they drove, she saw the icons for Joey's AirPods move fast, like a glitch.

"I didn't realize what it meant until later," she said softly.

As they neared Joey's location from his phone, they saw a stopped train, but nothing else. So they went back home.

A few hours later, police came by the house to tell the family what had happened.

"I don't think he knew that day that the way he was walking — the train was going to come from behind," Pamela said. "I think he thought it was going to come from where he could see it. He was wearing Apple AirPods. So he didn't hear the train coming behind him at all. Not even when it was really close. He didn't hear it."

"A train horn is really loud," she continued. "And the fact that he couldn't hear it when it was right there... They were so loud, he couldn't hear a train horn."

She said she knows if he had heard the train, he would have moved out of the way. She later learned that when the train blared its horn, he didn't turn around, flinch or react in any way.

"I know he didn't want to die and I know he didn't expect to that day," she said.

Joey Catalioto
Joey Catalioto

As she tackles the heartbreaking "what if?" questions, she was surprised by how many people reached out to help her family in the days and weeks after Joey's death.

"I think he would have been shocked, because he was kind of a quiet kid," she said. "I think he probably just thought he wasn't noticed. I'm glad that he is. I just wish he was here to know he was loved."

People have sent her photos of Joey and she has his iPhone, which likely has more photos but she can't access it yet, she said. His backpack, which is heavily damaged, is also back in her possession. She hasn't been able to locate his AirPods.

Since his death, she said she has learned how frequent incidents like this happen, where a person wearing headphones doesn't hear oncoming danger, and is injured or killed.

"I think it's important for everybody, if you're out and about — just don't put both AirPods in," Pamela said. "Just leave one out. You don't know what's around you."

It can happen to anybody, but she never thought it would happen to her family, she said.

"I just miss him. I wish he were here," she said. "I feel so empty without him at home. I have to walk by his room every day to get to my room. To get anywhere, I have to walk by his room. I just picture him in there — he's just there. But he's not. It doesn't feel real."

Mark Neitro, a photojournalist at KCNC, understands the surreal pain Pamela feels. Neitro's 20-year-old step-daughter, Amanda, was struck and killed by a train seven years ago while wearing headphones.

“Watching her [Pamela], listening to her talk about losing Joey, it's the same thing with Amanda for me," said Neitro. “Why was she on the tracks? Why was she listening to noise canceling headphones on the train tracks? We've taught her better than that.”

Neitro and his family started #OneEarOut, a campaign designed to raise awareness about keeping one ear out of headphones. Individuals can support their mission by taking a selfie with one headphone out, and sharing it to social media with the caption #OneEarOut.

“Tune into life, and that kind of has a double meaning to it," said Neitro. “We just want to save lives and we want to raise that awareness where people say, 'Hey, I'm out here in this situation. I probably should take one of the headphones off because I don't know what's around me.'”

A GoFundMe to support Joey's family is collecting donations.

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