Murder charges brought in California rail crash that killed 11
GLENDALE, Calif. (AP) ” The suicidal man who authorities say caused the chain-reaction train derailment that killed 11 people has been charged with multiple counts of murder and could face the death penalty, the district attorney said Thursday.
Juan Manuel Alvarez, 25, left his sport utility vehicle on a railroad track Wednesday after changing his mind about committing suicide, authorities said. He was held without bail at a hospital’s jail ward after apparently slitting his own wrists and stabbing himself in the chest.
In addition to the 11 dead, a woman remained missing and nearly 200 people were injured.
Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley said prosecutors filed charges late Wednesday for 10 counts of murder with “special circumstances” of committing murder through a train derailment.
Under state law, the allegation makes Alvarez eligible for the death penalty. Cooley said the complaint would be amended to add another count to refer to the 11th victim, found in the wreckage late Wednesday night.
Prosecutors were evaluating Alvarez’s mental state in regard to the special circumstance allegations, but Cooley said it was no defense to the charges.
“His despondency doesn’t move me,” the district attorney told The Associated Press. “The mere fact that he was a little upset or despondent doesn’t mean he has a defense for anything. It may actually work to support our case.”
Alvarez’s state of mind, while not providing a motive, could show his intent to commit a crime, Cooley said. He noted that a not guilty by reason of insanity defense has a very high standard.
Arraignment was planned for Thursday afternoon but could be delayed depending on Alvarez’s medical condition.
Glendale Police Chief Randy Adams said the case was put together so quickly because every one of the department’s more than 20 detectives worked on it, temporarily suspending all other investigations.
“The facts so far are really irrefutable,” Adams said, while adding that investigators were still trying to reconstruct the exact sequence of events in the crash.
Alvarez got out of his green Jeep Cherokee before the two commuter trains crashed in this Los Angeles suburb. He stood by as the gruesome chain-reaction wreck scattered wreckage and bodies over a quarter-mile of track.
The SUV was stuck between tracks away from a crossing and once there, he could not have moved it even if he had tried, Metrolink CEO David Solow said. The southbound train that struck it slid off the tracks, hit a parked Union Pacific railcar, then clipped the northbound train.
The crash was the worst U.S. rail tragedy since March 15, 1999, when an Amtrak train hit a truck and derailed near Bourbonnais, Ill., killing 11 people and injuring more than 100.
“I hope that we’re able to assess this in a way that we can figure out: Is there a way that we can stop one crazed individual from creating this kind of carnage?” Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn told reporters. The rails were expected to reopen Monday, Metrolink officials said.
Among the two women and nine men killed was a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy on his way to work. About two dozen people were hospitalized in critical condition.
Alvarez’s estranged wife, Carmelita Alvarez, had ordered him out of her Compton home months ago, her family said. In December, she obtained a temporary restraining order keeping him away from her, their 3-year-old son and other family members.
“He is using drugs and has been in and out of rehab twice,” she said in asking for the restraining order. “He threatened to take our kid away and to hurt my family members.”
Carmelita Alvarez, who went into seclusion shortly after the crash, also told the court her husband’s drug use was triggering hallucinations.
The wounded Alvarez was under suicide watch but was listed in stable condition, and Sheriff Lee Baca said Thursday on CBS’ “The Early Show” that Alvarez “was rather astounded himself as to what the outcome was.”
The force of the 6 a.m. collision hurled passengers down the trains’ aisles.
“I heard a noise. It got louder and louder,” said Diane Brady, 56, of Simi Valley. “And next thing I knew the train tilted, everyone was screaming and I held onto a pole for dear life. I held on for what seemed like a week and a half, it seemed. It was a complete nightmare.”
First on the scene were workers at a Costco store next to the tracks, who helped remove some of the injured in shopping carts. Uninjured passengers also joined the rescue effort.
Costco employee Hugo Moran said an elderly man, covered in blood and soot and with apparently broken arms and legs, was pulled out of the wreckage but died soon after. Before he died, he thanked his rescuers and asked them to pray for him.
Another trapped man had 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 wasn’t known, but Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Capt. Rex Vilaubi said he was removed from the wreckage alive.
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