washingtonpost.com  > Nation > Search the States > California

L.A. Train Crash Blamed on Suicidal Man

At Least 11 Dead, More Than 180 Hurt After SUV Is Left on Tracks

By Kimberly Edds and William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, January 27, 2005; Page A01

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 26 -- At least 11 people were killed and more than 180 were injured Wednesday when a commuter train derailed after crashing into a car parked on tracks north of Los 8Angeles, then sideswiped an oncoming train, knocking it off its rails.

Authorities said the SUV, a Jeep Cherokee, was left on the tracks by an apparently suicidal man, who jumped from the vehicle moments before the southbound commuter train plowed 8into it.

In a chain-reaction crash, the southbound train hit an SUV and then struck a freight car on a side track. When the train buckled, it collided with a northbound passenger train. The SUV's driver was detained and is expected to face multiple homicide charges. (Chris Carlson -- AP)

_____Rail Crash_____
Maps and a graphic show the location and the sequence of events leading up to the wreck.
Video: The crash scene.

It was the worst train wreck in the United States since March 1999, when an Amtrak train hit a truck and derailed in Illinois, killing 11 people and injuring about 100. In the deadliest train wreck in recent years, an Amtrak train plunged off a railroad bridge near 8Mobile, Ala., in September 1993, killing 47 people.

The SUV was hit shortly after 6 a.m. Pacific time by a southbound Metrolink train, which then went off the rails and started a deadly chain reaction, 8authorities said.

After derailing, the commuter train, which was being pushed by its engine, struck a Union Pacific locomotive parked on a side track, knocking it onto its side, fire department officials said. The commuter train, en route to Union Station in Los Angeles from the western suburb of Moorpark, then buckled, sideswiping a passing northbound train that was headed toward Burbank.

Diesel fuel in the locomotive caught fire as a result of the crash, and flames spread to parts of the wreckage before being extinguished.

The driver of the SUV, identified as Juan Manuel Alvarez, 25, of Compton, Calif., was taken into custody, and police said he would be charged with homicide. They said the abortive suicide attempt did not involve terrorism.

"This is a complete outrage," Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca angrily told reporters at the scene of mangled rail cars and smoking wreckage in the suburb of Glendale, north of downtown Los Angeles. He said the driver would be held accountable.

"You don't put your car on the track and put yourself in harm's way and all these passengers in harm's way," Baca said. Among the dead was a deputy in Baca's department who was riding the southbound train to work. In a light drizzle, rescue workers paused to salute the flag-draped stretcher carrying the body of Deputy James P. Tutino as it was removed from the wreckage.

"This whole incident was started by a deranged individual that was suicidal," Glendale Police Chief Randy Adams told a news conference. "I think his intent at that time was to take his own life, but [he] changed his mind prior to the train actually striking the vehicle."

Just hours before maneuvering his car onto the tracks, Alvarez had twice tried to kill himself, slashing his wrists and stabbing himself in the chest, police said. When those attempts failed, they said, he got into his car and headed for the tracks behind a Costco store.

Several train passengers said they saw Alvarez jump from his SUV just before the southbound train plowed into the vehicle, Adams said. Approximately 250 people were aboard the two commuter trains traveling in opposite directions at the beginning of the morning rush hour.

Rescue workers initially thought Alvarez was a crash victim when they found him wandering near the scene, bleeding from his wrists and chest. But he was arrested after saying he was the driver of the SUV that was struck by the train.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he muttered as he walked around the crash site, authorities said.

CONTINUED    1 2    Next >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company