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Deaf beauty queen was text-messaging when hit by train

By Elizabeth Yuan
CNN

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Tara Rose McAvoy was named Miss Deaf Texas in June 2005.

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(CNN) -- Deaf beauty contest winner Tara McAvoy was walking along the railroad tracks from her Austin, Texas, home to her mother's workplace, text-messaging family and friends, when a train struck her and killed her, according to the Austin Police Department.

A Massachusetts-born Texan, who liked to quote "Don't mess with Texas," the 18-year-old was going to represent the Lone Star State at the Miss Deaf America Pageant in Palm Desert, California, this July.

It was one of many pageants McAvoy had entered, "both in the hearing community and in the deaf community," said Claire Bugen, superintendent of the Texas School for the Deaf, on Wednesday. McAvoy was a 2005 graduate of the school, where she played sports and acted in theater.

"She was a beautiful, bright, young deaf woman," said Bugen.

The Austin Police Department received a 911 call from Union-Pacific, which owns the train, at 2:18 p.m. Monday, said Laura Albrecht, spokesperson for the Austin Police Department. (Watch as witnesses describe accident -- 1:33)

"Our understanding is that she text-messaged the family, and yes, the family members were going to pick her up," Albrecht added.

McAvoy was walking northbound along the railroad ties, with her back to the train as it approached, said Austin Police Department detective David Fugitt. "We have information that she was text-messaging family and friends" at the time, he added.

A horn sounded, but "they weren't able to get a response" from her, Fugitt said.

"At that point, they activated their emergency braking system, but they weren't able to stop in time."

A snowplow -- commonly referred to as "cattle-guards" for pushing items away from the tracks to avoid train damage -- was what struck McAvoy, who was estimated to be "no more than a foot" from the tracks, Fugitt said.

"The snowplow extends approximately 16 inches on each side from the train," he said, and was mounted to the front engine of the train.

McAvoy died at the scene from "multiple traumatic injuries," Fugitt said.

Fugitt said there were witnesses who had heard the horn sound and that the police department was actively seeking anyone who had seen the accident occur.

An investigation is under way with Union Pacific and the Travis County Medical Examiner's Office, Fugitt said. He said the Austin Police Department was awaiting information from Union Pacific on how fast the train, with its 24 cars and two engines, was going.

McAvoy's funeral is set for Saturday morning in Austin.

In addition to her schooling at the Texas School for the Deaf, McAvoy briefly attended the Model Secondary School for the Deaf, which is affiliated with Gallaudet University, in Washington. A profile on its Web site said McAvoy was class president, a cheerleader, on the prom committee and played basketball.

"She will be sorely missed," said Laura Loeb-Hill, director of the Miss Deaf Texas Pageant, in an e-mail Wednesday. "Tara represented Texas with dignity and pride."

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