The wife of the driver who was arrested after his truck was hit by a Metrolink train, which then derailed, defended her husband and said the couple was grieving over the recent death of their daughter.
Lucila Sanchez said her husband, Jose Alejandro Sanchez-Ramirez, 54, of Yuma, Ariz., didn’t want to go to California and begged his employer to stay in Arizona. The couple’s 29-year-old daughter died in July of cancer. They also have a son.
"He said, 'I don’t want to go,' " she said in an interview Tuesday with the L.A. Times. But Sanchez-Ramirez, a mechanic for 12 years with a harvesting company, headed to a job site in Oxnard early Tuesday, where the fiery collision occurred.
On Wednesday, his attorney said he didn't think Sanchez-Ramirez's grief played a role in the crash and was not a factor in his driving.
His wife described Tuesday's events this way: His truck unexpectedly stalled on the tracks. He noticed the train was fast approaching and tried to restart the engine. But his attempts were unsuccessful, so he jumped out of his truck.
But investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board say it appeared his truck was not stuck and that he had been driving on the tracks for some distance.
Sanchez-Ramirez was taken into custody on suspicion of hit-and-run after being found in a disoriented state wandering more than a mile and a half from the scene of the train derailment, said Jason Benites, assistant chief of the Oxnard Police Department.
Police have held him on suspicion of hit-and-run involving multiple people.
“It’s not his fault,” Lucila Sanchez insisted.
His attorney Ron Bamieh said Wednesday the crash was an accident.
Sanchez-Ramirez was not familiar with Oxnard, so he went to the area to check it out before a meeting Wednesday, he said.
Working off a printed Google map, he “mis-perceived the tracks to be the road” and became entangled, his attorney said.
As the train approached, Sanchez-Ramirez hit his high beams to get the train’s attention and even tried to push his 2005 Ford F-450 off the tracks, his attorney said. Unable to find a way to move his truck, "he was then forced to flee to save his own life,” he said.
After the crash, Lucila Sanchez said her husband called their son. Immediately after hearing about the crash, his family left their home in Arizona and made it to Oxnard by morning, she said.
She wasn’t sure if or when he would be released from police custody.
“He is tense,” she said Tuesday. “He is nervous.”
After the arrest, Bamieh said he met with Sanchez-Ramirez and that, who instead of asking about his case, he was focused on the passengers and their injuries.
His attorney described him as a good, hard-working man. The Arizona resident owns a home in Yuma.
After his daughter died of cancer, he and his wife had been helping their son-in-law take care of her children, his attorney said.
Sanchez-Ramirez was working with the Growers Co. in Somerton, Ariz. A statement from the company, where he has worked for 12 years, said he was a good employee and a good family man who posed no risk or danger to the community.
Sanchez-Ramirez, who has a valid Arizona commercial license, told police his pickup truck and trailer got “stuck” at an Oxnard railroad crossing moments before the explosive crash.
There were no fatalities in the 5:46 a.m. derailment, but 28 of the 50 people involved in the crash were rushed to hospitals with injuries such as broken limbs, head trauma and back and neck pain, according to emergency crews.
Arizona criminal records show that Sanchez-Ramirez pleaded guilty on Dec. 2, 1998, to a host of violations in a single case, including driving with a blood alcohol content above 0.08%, the legal limit in the state; failure to obey a police officer; having liquor with a minor on the premises and having no insurance.
In 2004, Sanchez-Ramirez was convicted of a local driving infraction in Yuma, and in 2007 he was cited for failure to obey a traffic-control device.
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