A Covina motorist who drove around a safety barrier was struck and killed by a Metrolink commuter train Wednesday morning, according to police.
The 450-ton train crashed into the car as it was stopped on the tracks on Grand Avenue at San Bernardino Road in Covina, police spokesman Robert Browne said. None of the 167 passengers on the Metrolink San Bernardino line train, which had been traveling about 60 mph, were injured.
Witnesses told police that the man drove around the lowered safety barrier about 8:15 a.m. and onto the tracks, where his car stopped, Browne said.
The train’s engineer had just rounded a corner about one mile away and saw the car inching onto the tracks, according to Metrolink spokesman Peter Hidalgo.
The engineer repeatedly sounded the train’s horn, but the car did not move off the tracks and was struck, Hidalgo said. About 45 seconds passed between the time the engineer saw the car and the crash, he said.
Hidalgo said that after hitting the car, the train continued forward for about a third of a mile--the minimum stopping distance for such a train traveling at that speed--before coming to a stop.
The driver, a 37-year-old man whose name was not released pending notification of kin, was dead at the scene, according to Browne.
Mark Feeney, manager of the Capri Deli, located near the crash site, had just walked out the door of his restaurant when he saw the train pushing the mangled car. “I heard a screeching noise and saw the train slowed down to about 20 mph with the car in front,” he said.
Browne said police are still trying to determine why the motorist did not proceed or leave the vehicle as the train approached. Police are inspecting the car’s remains for signs of a mechanical failure, but Browne said the car may be too badly damaged to know if it malfunctioned.
“We don’t know why it stopped and we may never know,” Browne said.
Passengers on the train, which was traveling from San Bernardino to Union Station in Los Angeles, were held in the train for nearly two hours until buses arrived to transport them to their destinations, Hidalgo said.
Wednesday’s accident was the fifth Metrolink accident fatality this year, Hidalgo said.
There have been 38 deaths, excluding suicides, from Metrolink crashes since the rail service began in 1992, Hidalgo said.
Metrolink does not keep statistics on suicides involving its trains, but Hidalgo said he knows of two this year.
Fatal crashes have continued despite years of efforts by Metrolink to educate the public and the installation of safety equipment such as fences at some rail crossings. Near-misses between cars and trains occur daily, officials said.
After the accident, dozens of Covina residents gathered around the railroad tracks near the crash site, which is in a busy commercial and industrial area. Among them were several families with children. One mother pointed to the twisted car, looked back to the distant crash site and warned her two young sons to keep clear of oncoming trains.
“See how long it takes one to stop,” she said.
“He should’ve paid attention to the sign,” replied one of the boys.
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Excluding suicides, 38 people have been killed by Metrolink trains since the rail line opened in 1992.
Year No. of Deaths 1992 1 1993 5 1994 13 1995 9 1996 5 1997 5