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Train Strikes 3 Vehicles, Injuring 2 in Orange; Vandalism Is Suspected

Times Staff Writer

Santa Fe Railroad officials said that vandals may be responsible for an accident Monday at an Orange railway crossing in which two people were injured and three cars were damaged in a collision with a slow-moving train.

The 5:40 a.m. accident occurred as the two-engine, 23-car northbound train approached the intersection of La Veta Street and Montgomery Place. Railway officials said that the train, which approached the intersection at a speed of 12 to 14 m.p.h., began to cross the intersection with the street’s railway-crossing gates lowered as normal.

Just as the train entered the intersection, the gates rose without warning, leaving traffic free to cross the intersection into the path of the train, said Mike Martin, a Santa Fe spokesman.

Martin said that the train, which was traveling in reverse, first struck a pickup truck with its caboose, tearing off a portion of the truck’s tailgate. The collision spun the truck into a 1989 Honda Prelude which careened into a wall. Before the train could be stopped, it struck a Dodge sedan, pushing it about 40 yards down the track and causing it to catch fire.

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Occupants of two vehicles who were treated at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange and released were identified as Yolanda Thompson, 43, and Vartan Markarian, 36. Addresses were not available. A member of a Santa Fe work crew at the scene said the third driver escaped injury. According to Martin, none of the Santa Fe crew sustained any injuries from the accident.

Police in Orange and railway officials both declined to identify the victims.

“After the Honda was sent into the wall, the caboose hit the Dodge and carried it some distance down the track where it caught fire. The man who was driving it got out before it went up” in flames, Martin said.

“Our preliminary investigation indicates that a set of under-track cables, which are kind of like early warning sensors for the crossing gates, were pulled up by someone from underneath the track and laid across the rails. We believe that the cables were severed underneath the weight of a passing train sometime in the last 12 to 24 hours. This might have disabled the train-crossing warning system,” Martin said, adding that the railroad is still investigating the incident.

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For the residents of an apartment complex that adjoins the train track, the early morning collision startled many out of a sound sleep.

“My husband and I both heard this terrible screeching sound. We first thought it was an earthquake. We threw on some clothes and ran outside,” said Debbie Lujan, a manager for the apartment complex. “When we got out there, a man who we thought might have been the train’s engineer said: ‘I believe that I just hit three cars, can you call 911?’ ”


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