- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 26, 2005

GLENDALE, Calif. (AP) — A suicidal man parked his vehicle on the railroad tracks and set off a crash of two commuter trains yesterday that killed at least 11 persons and left more than 180 injured.

Juan Manuel Alvarez, 25, of Compton, was arrested and will face homicide charges, said Police Chief Randy Adams. Alvarez has a criminal record involving drugs, Chief Adams said.

The collision took place just before daybreak on the outskirts of Los Angeles, creating a scene of carnage. Employees at a Costco store rushed to the scene and pulled riders from the overturned double-deck cars before the flames reached them. Dazed passengers staggered from the wreckage, some limping.

“I heard a noise. It got louder and louder,” said passenger Diane Brady, 56. “And next thing I knew the train tilted, everyone was screaming and I held on to a pole for dear life. … It was a complete nightmare.”

Dozens of the injured were in critical condition, and more than 120 people were sent to hospitals. Killed were one woman and nine men, including Sheriff’s Deputy James Tutino, 47, whose flag-draped body was saluted by law officers and firefighters as it was carried from the wreckage. An 11th body, the sex of which could not be determined, was found late last night.

Before his rescue, one trapped man apparently used his own blood to write a note on a seat bottom. Using the heart symbol, he wrote “I love my kids” and “I love Leslie.”

The man’s identity was not known, but Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Rex Vilaubi said the man was alive when he was removed.

The wreck set into motion a huge rescue operation involving more than 300 firefighters, some of whom climbed ladders to reach the windows of the battered train cars. A triage center was set up in a parking lot, where the injured lay sprawled on color-coded mats — red for those with severe injuries, green for those who were not seriously hurt.

Authorities said the deadly rail disaster was caused by an aborted suicide attempt by Alvarez, who parked his green Jeep Grand Cherokee on the tracks. Alvarez also had slashed his wrists and stabbed himself, but the injuries were not thought to be life-threatening, authorities said.

Police said Alvarez changed his mind and got out of the vehicle before a Metrolink train smashed into it. The train then derailed and collided with another train going in the opposite direction. That train also jumped the tracks.

“This whole incident was started by a deranged individual that was suicidal,” Chief Adams said. “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.”

Alvarez’s sister-in-law, Maricela Amaya, told the Spanish-language Telemundo TV network that he had separated from his wife, Carmelita, three months ago. She said Mrs. Alvarez obtained a court order to keep her husband away from her, but he had tried to see his wife and son.

“He was having problems with drugs and all that and was violent, and because of that he separated from her,” the sister-in-law said in Spanish. “A few other times he went around as if he wanted to kill himself. I said, ‘If you’re going to kill yourself, go kill yourself far away. Don’t come by here telling that to my sister.’”

She said Alvarez also had threatened to commit suicide in front of his son.

The crash occurred at about 6 a.m. in an industrial area of Glendale, a suburb north of Los Angeles. One train was headed for Los Angeles’ Union Station from Moorpark, a western suburb. The other train was traveling outbound from Union Station to the San Fernando Valley.

Investigators from the FBI, National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Railroad Administration were sent.

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