Charles Peck had gone through some tough times in recent years, including a divorce, but things were looking up. Peck, 49, had fallen in love again, with longtime friend Andrea Katz of Westlake Village.
In February, he asked Katz to be his wife.
But there was a problem. Peck, the father of three grown children, lived in Salt Lake City, and Katz didn't want to get married until they were living in the same state. So, for six months, Peck looked for work in California. He had a job interview lined up Friday night at Van Nuys Airport.
Friends say he was upbeat when he left work early that afternoon to board a plane to Los Angeles. Before he departed, he bought cookies for his co-workers at Delta Airlines, where he had worked for 19 years as a ramp agent.
"They told me it was the happiest they'd ever seen him," Katz said. "Our dream had finally come true."
Katz was driving to the Metrolink station in Moorpark to pick him up when she heard a news report on the radio of a commuter train crash in Chatsworth. She rushed to the scene. Peck's family -- his parents and siblings also live in the Los Angeles area -- soon followed.
For a while, there was hope. Although there was no trace of Peck at the crash site, nor at any hospitals, Katz kept receiving calls from his cellphone. The calls were silent, but they meant Peck might be alive somewhere on the train.
At 1 a.m. Saturday, after most of the rescue effort had ceased for the night, a search team dug frantically into the wreckage, using Peck's cellphone signal as a guide. At 4 a.m., they found him. He was dead.
"I wasn't done with him yet." That was Katz's first thought when she heard the news. "We were just getting started," she said.
In the days since, she has tried not to think about how Peck died.
"You can think about that, and hurt over that all you want," Katz said. But she preferred to think about how he lived.
"He was a gentleman -- so insightful, always present," she said. "The love that we had for each other is enough to last a lifetime."
-- Kate Linthicum