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Family of Train Victims Grieves, Waits for Return of Bodies : Accident: Mourners must delay funeral plans for three relatives until the coroner releases the badly mangled remains.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It is hard enough to cope with the shattering deaths of his wife, daughter and father-in-law, who were struck by a commuter train, but the county coroner’s office is preventing him from bringing the tragedy to a close, Frank Villanueva said Thursday.

Villanueva’s family doctor, Elizabeth Remedios, who spoke to coroner’s officials on his behalf, said Thursday she was told that the bodies of the three victims were so badly mangled that it may take another week or more to identify them, preventing their release for burial.

Coroner’s officials said they were unprepared to comment on the case Thursday.

It has been four days since the three family members were killed by a Metrolink train. Six of their relatives have flown in from Miami to attend a burial service at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, said the family’s pastor, the Rev. Fidel Carreno. But the service cannot be held until the bodies are released.

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Also, it will cost between $10,000 and $12,000 to bury the bodies, money that Frank Villanueva says he does not have. A fund to gather donations for him has been set up by Union Federal Bank in Los Angeles.

“I still believe in the Lord,” Villanueva said as he sat in his father’s sparsely furnished apartment, next door to his own, Thursday. “Right now, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Villanueva, 38, had been in seclusion since Monday, when his wife, Maylem Blanca Villanueva, 37; their daughter, Francis Villanueva, 7; and Maylem’s father, Juan Antonio Pina, 80, took a shortcut across the Metrolink tracks in Glendale and stepped into the path of an oncoming train.

Because of Pina’s ill health, Villanueva said, they took a popular shortcut across the tracks that many in Glendale prefer to the Western Avenue automobile and pedestrian overpass. Villanueva said he himself has taken the shortcut several times.

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It is illegal to walk across the tracks, but there are no warning signs posted. Metrolink officials have said the three victims were trespassing on private property.

Although still shaken by the accident, Villanueva said he blames no one for it.

Speaking softly, he occasionally wiped his forehead and let Carreno express the family’s concern over retrieving the bodies.

“We are urging (the coroner’s office) to do this as fast as possible,” Carreno said.

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“They were loving,” the pastor said of Frank and Maylem Villanueva. “Most of all, they had the love of God in their hearts.”

As often as three to four times a week, the couple would attend services at his church, the Iglesia Puerta Del Cielo of the Assembly of God in Glendale, sometimes inviting others to join them, the pastor said.

At times, they struggled financially but seemed to be doing better lately, said Iezza Primo, an owner of the modest, two-story apartment building where the couple lived, just two blocks away from the train tracks.

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“The only trouble they had was money, but finally they were able to pay the rent. They were a very, very close family,” Primo said.

Villanueva’s surviving 10-year-old daughter, Marlene, lay on a living room sofa, flipping through family photos, and paused when she reached her sister’s, slowly whispering, “Francis, Francis, Francis.”

Frank Villanueva’s faith in God, his pastor said, has remained unshaken. “He’s accepted . . . that sometimes things happen that we don’t like to happen.”


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