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 Angeles, 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 into it.

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 Mobile, 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, authorities 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.

Alvarez was taken to USC Medical Center for treatment of his self-inflicted wounds, and police moved to book him on multiple counts of homicide. Adams described him as "upset, remorseful but cooperative." The police chief said Alvarez has a criminal record involving drugs.

The force of the crash hurled passengers down the aisles and into tables as the rail cars twisted and turned before finally coming to rest. At least one train car caught fire.

Bleeding and dazed, passengers scrambled to escape the battered rail cars as smoke filled the air. Employees of the Costco warehouse next to the train tracks ran out to help the injured, bringing blankets and water. A triage center was set up in the store's parking lot as firefighters rushed to the scene, began extinguishing the flames and worked to free passengers trapped inside the twisted wreckage.

Nearly 400 rescuers searched the debris for victims, some of whom were carried away on stretchers. Firefighters dropped search cameras into tiny spaces inside the crushed compartments, looking for signs of life.

Authorities said that 123 people were taken to 15 hospitals and that about 40 people were in critical condition. About 60 people were treated at the scene and released.

Bruised and bloodied passengers from the Metrolink train en route to Los Angeles from Moorpark said they had heard a loud rumbling before the crash, which sent people tumbling down the aisles.

"I thought it was an earthquake because of the sound of gravel underneath the train," Hemlata Thomas, 67, told the Associated Press.

Train rider Jeff Vergeldedios told a local television station, "We felt a sharp jolt, and then it felt like we were hitting gravel." Touching his bandaged head, he said, "All of a sudden we had a big hit. And that was it."

"It sounded like someone dropped a bundle of lumber on top of our building," said Lynn Causey, 44, who manages a lumber yard next to the train tracks. "The building was just shaking."

After hearing the crash, Causey, who often rides the same train, rushed to help move injured passengers away from the wreckage. If he had not driven to work because it was raining, he said, "I would have been there, standing up with my bicycle. I would have been right at the door, getting ready to get off. I wouldn't have had anything to hold on to. I would have been killed."

Tracy West, 38, of Los Angeles said the car she was in tipped over at a dangerous angle.

"I was flipping over people until I landed a couple of feet ahead and hit a cup holder, armrest or something," she told the AP. "Then when it was over, I saw that I was bleeding and had bruises all over."

Branigin reported from Washington.

In a chain-reaction crash, the southbound commuter train hit an SUV and then struck a freight car. 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.

Juan Alvarez reportedly tried to kill himself before the crash.Hundreds of rescue workers reported to the scene to treat the injured and search for victims in the wreckage.