Rail Firm Accused in Fatal California Train Crash; Victims' Attorney Says Complaints About Engineer Were Ignored

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Associated Press
Wednesday, January 7, 2009

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 6 -- Attorneys for more than a dozen victims in a deadly commuter rail crash accused the engineer's employer of ignoring complaints that he regularly used his cellphone while operating trains.

Another employee said he called managers at Connex Railroad LLC about Robert Sanchez's constant cellphone use about two weeks before the Sept. 12 disaster and complained a second time to a co-worker within three hours of the crash, lawyer Edward Pfiester said.

The employee also said that, some months before the crash, a Connex inspector doing a routine field test found Sanchez's cellphone was turned on, which violates company and Metrolink rules against engineers using the devices on duty, Pfiester said.

"It's been against the written rules of Metrolink for a long, long time. They busted him for it, but they didn't really do anything about it," the lawyer said.

Pfiester did not release the name of the employee, saying the person feared for his job, and did not provide documentation to back the allegations. But Pfiester said the claims appear credible because the person worked directly with Sanchez.

Federal investigators have said Sanchez sent a text message 22 seconds before the train collided with a Union Pacific freight train in the San Fernando Valley community of Chatsworth, killing 25 people and injuring more than 130.

Sanchez died in the crash.

The allegations were contained in an amended lawsuit filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of 23 plaintiffs, including passengers who were injured or killed and their spouses.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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