- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 3, 2015

LOS ANGELES (AP) - The engineer of a Southern California commuter train died Tuesday, a week after he was badly injured when his train smashed into a truck that had been abandoned on the tracks, officials said.

Glenn Steele, 62, died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where he was transported a day after the Feb. 24 crash, said Ed Winter, assistant chief of the coroner’s office.

Steele was with a trainee, who was driving the train from a front cab car, when it struck a heavy pickup truck and trailer in Oxnard, about 65 miles northwest of Los Angeles. It is unclear what role Steele played in the moments before the crash.

Steele was the longest-serving engineer at the Southern California commuter train network, Metrolink spokesman Scott Johnson said.

“Glenn had been the mentor or instructor for a large number of Metrolink engineers,” Johnson said.

The truck driver, Jose Alejandro Sanchez-Ramirez of Yuma, Arizona, was initially arrested then released without charges. Steele’s death changes the nature of the investigation and opens up the possibility of a vehicular manslaughter charge, said Jason Benites, assistant chief of police in Oxnard.

In a written statement, defense attorney Ron Bamieh said he spoke with Sanchez-Ramirez, who expressed “deep sadness to Mr. Steele’s family.”

Bamieh said his client accidentally turned onto the tracks and made repeated attempts to get the truck off the rails, then ran for his life as the train approached.

Thirty people were injured in the crash when the train’s four cars and locomotive derailed, three falling on their sides.

From the beginning, authorities said the engineer was the most critically injured; he is the only victim who has died. He had been transferred to Cedars-Sinai after suffering two cardiac episodes, Benites said.

The coroner’s office did not release a cause of death, saying an autopsy was pending.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the accident. In briefings last week, it said the student engineer was driving the train.

The train was going 64 mph when the crew saw the truck. Recorder data showed the emergency brakes were applied eight seconds before the crash, when the train was about 750 feet from the truck. At impact, it was traveling 56 mph.

Police are also awaiting toxicology screening results, though defense attorney Bamieh has said there was no sign his client was impaired.

___

Associated Press reporter Tami Abdollah contributed to this report.

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