Jurors view wrecked rail cars

Times Staff Writer

Jurors on Wednesday viewed the mangled wreckage of four train cars involved in the worst crash in Metrolink history -- a tour meant to help them decide the appropriate punishment for the man they convicted last month on 11 counts of first-degree murder.

The dozen jurors and five alternates cupped their hands around their eyes as they peered into windows and through twisted doors.

Remnants of the crash -- frozen from the moments of the wreck -- sat in an empty lot in Glendale, surrounded by wire mesh topped with razor wire. Some jurors walked in groups, others in pairs, a few alone. They held copies of photographs taken the day of the crash that had been shown in court, comparing images to the evidence.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Juan Manuel Alvarez, 29, who on Jan. 26, 2005, parked his sport utility vehicle on tracks near downtown Glendale, setting off a fatal chain-reaction collision that also left at least 180 injured.


Alvarez claimed that he had intended to commit suicide, changed his mind and then was unable to dislodge his vehicle from the tracks before a Metrolink passenger train slammed into it, derailed and hit a parked freight train and an oncoming commuter train.

Jurors walked around the evidence. Four rail cars remain, lined up side by side. The rusty, sheared-off underside of one compartment was displayed.

Looking into the cars, jurors could see walls smashed and seats tossed about in a mess of bent metal. The upper levels had caved in and gravel was everywhere -- churned up when the train skidded off its tracks. Old newspapers and Metrolink schedules still littered the floors.

Jurors mostly showed no emotion and spoke in whispers when they addressed each other.


“This one is not as bad,” one said quietly to another as she peered into car 133, where many seats were upright and intact.

At least half a dozen Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies were on hand, as well as prosecutors, defense attorneys, L.A. County Superior Court Judge William R. Pounders, a court clerk and a court reporter. Alvarez chose not to be present.

Pounders said later that many jurors had questions.

“We will find out what the questions they have are and answer them in court tomorrow,” he said.


Wednesday’s viewing followed emotional days of testimony this week. Several jurors have cried while listening to relatives of those who were killed testify about how the deaths changed their lives. Survivors have testified about their memories of that day and the effects of the trauma and injuries they suffered.

In opening statements for the penalty phase, Deputy Dist. Atty. Cathryn Brougham said anything less than the death penalty “is not justice.”

Alvarez’s lawyers have not yet addressed the jury in this phase of the trial. They are saving their remarks for when they present their arguments against his execution.