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Police seek motive of man killed after parking on Metrolink rails

Times Staff Writer

A man tried to kill his girlfriend Monday by parking their car in front of a speeding Metrolink commuter train, but instead died when debris from the crash struck him after he had been ejected from the car, police said.

His girlfriend, who was in the car when the train slammed into the vehicle’s passenger side, was seriously injured but is expected to survive.

Homicide detectives said they were trying to determine the motive of the man, who was identified late Monday as Brandon Julius Funches, 21, of South Los Angeles. They said they believe he was trying to kill the 23-year-old woman, whose name was not released, and they were unsure whether he also intended to commit suicide.

Los Angeles Police Department officers and Metrolink officials said they were amazed that no one else was hurt in the crash, which occurred at a crossing in Pacoima.

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The incident began just after noon as the gate arm dropped at the rail crossing at San Fernando Road and Branford Street, Los Angeles Police Sgt. Lee Sands said.

Witnesses told police that they saw the couple shouting at each other inside a 2005 Dodge Magnum that was waiting at the crossing for the oncoming Lancaster-bound train, which was filled with about 125 passengers, to pass. Suddenly, Sands said, the man pulled his car into the opposing lane of traffic, sped past two other waiting cars and the crossing gate, and parked on the tracks.

Some witnesses told police that Funches appeared to have jumped out of the Dodge just as the train hit the vehicle. But police believe that he was ejected from the car when the train hit it -- perhaps while trying to leave the vehicle. The impact sent metal debris flying, with some of the pieces fatally wounding Funches as he was running away, Sands said.

Detectives believe that Funches placed the car on the tracks with the passenger side facing the train in hopes of killing his girlfriend.

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The train did not derail, and no one on board was injured, authorities said.

But the Dodge was so mangled, they said, that they could not immediately determine the make or model.

Officials said the force of the crash sent pieces of metal flying as far as a block away. Pieces penetrated cars and disabled a truck by tearing through the engine, LAPD officials said.

Denise Tyrell, a Metrolink spokeswoman, said its trains in that area go through crossings at up to 79 mph. She said the agency was treating the case as a “deliberate act” and was checking the train’s black box recording device for data.

“It is very rare for you to survive being hit by a train in your car,” she said. “A train is massive -- 450 tons. Your car is to a train what a soda can is to your car.”

The crash occurred about 15 miles from where a man deliberately parked in front of an oncoming Metrolink train two years earlier near Glendale. Eleven people died and nearly 200 others were injured Jan. 26, 2005, when the train smashed into the man’s SUV, setting off a violent chain reaction that caused a commuter train coming from the opposite direction to crash and derail. One train also smashed into a freight train parked on adjacent tracks.

After that crash, Metrolink and other agencies looked at ways to better protect passengers. Among the measures was the removal of some tables on the trains that studies showed could cause injuries.

Little is known about the couple involved in Monday’s incident.

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Firefighters used special rescue equipment to extract the woman from the car. She was taken to Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, where she was listed in serious condition.

“We wish the woman the best and hope for her recovery,” Tyrrell said.

richard.winton@latimes.com


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