3 trains derail, 11 die after car left on tracks

Investigators examine the wreckage from a train derailment Wednesday in Glendale, Calif.

The Associated Press
Published: Thursday, January 27, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 26, 2005 at 11:24 p.m.
GLENDALE, Calif. - A man intent on committing suicide left his car on a railroad track in Glendale near downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday, where it set off a collision that derailed two commuter trains, killing at least 11 people and injuring nearly 200, authorities said.
Police arrested a man who they said would be charged with homicide in the crash that left train cars mangled and seared. Debris including seat cushions, bloody towels and luggage discarded by fleeing passengers littered the area.
A southbound commuter train heading to downtown Los Angeles hit the Jeep Grand Cherokee parked on the tracks, Glendale Police Chief Randy G. Adams said. The train then apparently crashed into a northbound Metrolink commuter train, and a stationary Union Pacific freight train was hit and knocked off the tracks, officials said. The investigation was continuing.
Adams identified the suspect as Juan Manuel Alvarez, 25, of Compton, adding that he had attempted suicide before.
Alvarez, who was identified by witnesses at the scene, was detained there and appeared to have superficial self-inflicted injuries unrelated to the crash.
Distraught and remorseful, Alvarez told police he had left the vehicle and watched the derailment, Adams said. The suspect was put on a suicide watch.
Alvarez was held on 11 counts of murder, Adams said, although formal charges are lodged by the District Attorney's Office. Alvarez, who will be 26 on Feb. 26, had previous drug arrests, Adams said.
It is too early to say exactly what those charges will be, District Attorney Steve Cooley said, but they could include multiple counts of murder, with special circumstances based on the number of deaths and nature of the crime. Key to the legal case, Cooley said, "is the intent of the individual when he drove onto the tracks."
Adams said of Alvarez: "I think his intent at that time was to take his own life, but changed his mind prior to the train actually striking this vehicle. He exited the vehicle and stood by as the southbound Metrolink train struck his vehicle, causing the train to derail and strike the northbound train."
Glendale Mayor Bob Yousefian said that Alvarez "kind of ran, tried to hide, but because of his previous injuries, he got apprehended."
When asked why Alvarez was in Glendale, the mayor responded, "He came to Glendale to commit suicide."
A National Transportation Safety Board team was headed to the scene. The Glendale Police Department was leading the criminal investigation, with Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department assisting.
The 6 a.m. crash set off minor fires and diesel fuel spills as rescuers rushed to the scene about four miles north of Los Angeles.
"This is unbelievably tragic," Sheriff Lee Baca told reporters at the scene. "It is a complete outrage as far as transportation safety is concerned."
At a joint news conference with Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton and Glendale's Adams, Baca said he was especially upset because one of the dead was identified as Deputy James Tutino, a 23-year veteran of the Sheriff's Department. He was aboard the southbound train, heading to work.
Three LAPD employees were hospitalized, and one was unaccounted for, Bratton said.
By 10:30 a.m., the death count hit 10. Fire officials said 123 people were treated and transported to 13 area hospitals. About 60 people were treated at the scene and released.
At least five passes had been completed through the trains by 9 a.m., when officials said the focus shifted from rescue to recovery.
Officials said the trains usually carried 200 to 250 passengers. The top speed is 79 mph, although the trains were believed to be traveling at less than the maximum.
David Morrison, 47, an attorney, was heading to downtown Los Angeles on his regular morning commute. He said he got on train 100 at 5:19 a.m. in Simi Valley.
"I heard the crash. It sounded like the train was dragging something across the tracks," he told the Los Angeles Times. "There was a violent lurch and everything came to a stop."
He said the passengers fled amid the smell of diesel fumes.
Goddard Paialii, 53, of Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, a communications electrician for the city of Los Angeles, said he boarded the train and rode in the lead car. He was upstairs and said he was trying to nap, listening to his iPod.
After the crash, the train "appeared to be dragging whatever it hit. At that point, I just braced myself. Computers, seat pads, briefcases were flying all over. There was lots of smoke in the car."
But the exodus remained orderly. Cathie Fransen, 57, was riding with her friend Ken Milds, 55, in the middle car. Fransen said she has taken the train regularly for 12 1/2 years and was in the aisle seat, second floor, middle car. She does community relations for IBM in Glendale.
"It was very terrifying. We had seconds to think about what was going on," she said.
The entire wreck of all three trains was contained between a gray warehouse and the brick wall of a Costco warehouse store.
All along the ground, large metal pieces of the side of the train and gray upholstered seats were scattered like discarded food wrappers. On the train cars, windows gaped or were shattered in their frames.
"We heard a loud boom and the building shook," said Jenny Doll, 30, a Costco clerk.
Employees took fire extinguishers from the store shelves and ran outside to help.
Inside the store, passengers were processed by officials trying to account for everyone on board. Once done, the commuters filed out and sat on white picnic benches in front of a snack stand.
An hour after the crash, crews worked on the wreckage as about 50 passengers waited nearby.

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