Human bones discovered in Santa Ana spur homicide investigation, halt electric streetcar project

A label reading "Bones found at streetcar worksite" points to the 2000 block of West 5th Street on a map of Santa Ana
Santa Ana police received a call Wednesday morning about human remains found at a former scrap yard where work is ongoing on a future Orange County streetcar maintenance facility.
(Los Angeles Times )

A homicide investigation is underway and work on Orange County’s first electric rail system has stopped after human bones were found Wednesday at a streetcar project worksite in Santa Ana.

Santa Ana Police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna said his department received a call at 10:54 a.m. after the remains were found at a converted scrap yard that will serve as a streetcar maintenance station and storage facility.

The remains were unearthed on West 5th Street near a pair of future train stops.

After an archaeologist attached to the streetcar project identified the bones as human, workers notified Santa Ana police. The Orange County coroner’s office confirmed the bones were human, and police declared the area a crime scene.


The coroner’s office is working with homicide investigators to determine whether foul play was involved.

“The bones were found in a big hole and were probably located about six feet below the surface,” said Bertagna, who added that he spotted a femur and a “rib cage that’s still partially exposed.”

Bertagna could not confirm the age of the bones or the sex of the person who died but said he believed the remains were those of an adult.

“Nobody knows much about these bones and that’s why we’re investigating,” Bertagna said, adding that homes used to be where the worksite is before it became a scrap yard.

The Orange County Transportation Authority, which oversees the streetcar project, purchased parcels of the scrap yard in 2018 and 2019, said Eric Carpenter, a spokesman for the agency.

The scrap yard was remade into a maintenance and storage facility center set to house two replacement streetcars and serve as a repair site.

The investigation has put a temporary hold on a project that broke ground in 2018 and has an estimated completion date of late 2022, Carpenter said.

“We don’t know at what point when we’ll be able to get back to work with the discovery,” he said.


The 4.15-mile electric streetcar line is designed to run mostly through Santa Ana, beginning at the Santa Ana Regional Transportation Center and ending in Garden Grove near the intersection of Harbor Boulevard and Westminster Avenue.