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Route 66 News

Journalist dies in train-car crash near Amboy

I saw a story in the San Bernardino County Sun yesterday in which a man from Las Vegas had been traveling Route 66 west of Amboy, Calif., and suddenly stopped his car on the railroad tracks, where he died when a freight train hit it.

The article didn’t mention it at the time, but the circumstances screamed “suicide.”

We find out today that the deceased individual was Warren Bates, 49, an assistant city editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. And the California Highway Patrol indeed is considering it a suicide.

And it’s apparent he didn’t choose at random the location of his final moments of life:

In 1999, he traveled to one of his favorite places, the Mojave National Preserve, for a feature story on a solitary pay phone booth, describing it as “a lonely sentry at the end of a string of telephone poles about 75 miles southeast of Las Vegas and 10 digits away from anyone who wants to reach out and see if there’s life in the middle of the desert.” […]

Bates drove out on Route 66 to take photos of Amboy, the town where his life ended, to illustrate a story Review-Journal reporter Henry Brean wrote about the deserted place.

“He went out and took pictures himself — ┬áthat is what he did,” Brean said Saturday. “He went out and shot pictures of the desert, of ghost towns and old railroad crossings. He would go and find these little out of the way places. We used to harass him and say he ought to write a book.”

Instead, Bates developed a website, www.roadtozzyzx.com, titled “where ruin is reborn” that featured his photos as well as stories about his extensive travels and lines from his favorite poems. […]

“I love getting out of Las Vegas. I love the desert,” he said, calling what he finds to shoot modern ruins. “These were people’s dreams at one point. I still think there is some beauty in that.”

If it’s true he decided to kill himself, it came abruptly. On Thursday, he told a colleague “I’ll be there” for a Sunday poker game with other co-workers. Bates called in sick on Friday, and he was dead by 5 p.m. that day.

Maybe Bates just received a diagnosis of a deadly disease. Maybe he learned he was on a list for possible job cuts. Regardless, if he felt like killing himself, he should have gotten professional help, pronto.

Yes, his story is sad. But Bates’ abrupt decision also caused a lot of pain for his co-workers, family and especially the train engineer.

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