A man intent on committing suicide left his car on a railroad track in Glendale today where it set off a three-train collision that killed at least 11 people and injured nearly 200, authorities said.
Police arrested a man who they said would be charged with homicide in the crash that left train cars mangled and seared. Debris including seat cushions, bloody towels and luggage discarded by fleeing passengers littered the area.
A southbound commuter train heading to downtown Los Angeles hit the green Jeep Cherokee parked on the tracks, said Glendale Police Chief Randy G. Adams. The train then apparently crashed into a northbound Metrolink commuter train and a Union Pacific freight train was also hit and pushed off the tracks, officials said. The investigation was continuing.
Adams identified the suspect as Juan Manuel Alvarez, 25, of Compton, adding that he had attempted suicide before.
Alvarez, who was identified by witnesses at the scene, was detained there and appeared to have superficial self-inflicted injuries unrelated to the crash. The suspect was put on a suicide watch.
Distraught and remorseful, Alvarez told police he had left the vehicle and watched the derailment, Adams said. Alvarez was held, facing 10 counts of murder, Adams said, though formal charges are yet to be lodged by the district attorney's office. Alvarez, who will celebrate his 26th birthday on Feb. 26, had prior drug arrests, Adams said.
It is too early to say exactly what those charges will be, Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said, but they could include multiple counts of murder with special circumstances based on the number of deaths and nature of the crime. Key to the legal case, Cooley said, "is the intent of the individual when he drove onto the tracks."
Adams said Alvarez may have tried to move the Jeep. "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. He exited the vehicle and stood by as the southbound Metrolink train struck his vehicle, causing the train to derail and strike the northbound train."
Glendale Mayor Bob Yousefian said that Alvarez "kind of ran, tried to hide, but because of his previous injuries, he got apprehended."
When asked why Alvarez was in Glendale, the mayor responded, "He came to Glendale to commit suicide."
At an evening news conference, Adams said there were nine dead men and one dead woman, who was identified as Julie Bennett, 44, of Simi Valley, an employee of the Los Angeles Fire Department.
The Sheriff's Department also said that one of its employees, Manuel Alcala, 51, a maintenance worker, was killed in the crash.
There were some people still missing and that could change the toll.
A National Transportation Safety Board team headed to the scene. The Glendale Police Department was leading the criminal investigation, with LAPD and the Sheriff's Department assisting. Also involved was the local office of the FBI and there was a possibility of federal charges as well.
The 6 a.m. crash set off minor fires and diesel fuel spills as rescuers rushed to the scene at San Fernando Road and Chevy Chase Drive. The area is near where Burbank, Glendale and Atwater Village in Los Angeles meet.
"This is unbelievably tragic," an angry Sheriff Lee Baca told reporters at the scene at the first of a series of news conferences broadcast by local television stations. "It is a complete outrage as far as transportation safety is concerned."
At a joint news conference with Los Angeles police Chief William Bratton and Glendale's Adams, Baca said he was especially angry because one of the dead was identified as Deputy James Tutino, a 23-year veteran of the Sheriff's Department. He was aboard the southbound train, heading to work from Simi Valley.
Three LAPD employees were hospitalized and one was unaccounted for, Bratton said.
The death toll steadily climbed as the sun rose. By 10:30 a.m. the count hit 10. Fire officials said 123 people were treated and transported to 13 area hospitals. About 60 people were treated at the scene and released.
Man Faces Charges in Metrolink Collision
One of the trains hits a car police say was deliberately parked on the tracks and then hits a second train.
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