Autopsy finds no drugs or alcohol in body of train engineer in Chatsworth Metrolink crash
No evidence of illegal drugs, alcohol or medication was found in the autopsy of the Metrolink engineer at the controls of the train that crashed in Chatsworth on Sept. 12, killing 25 people, according to a coroner’s report released Wednesday.
Engineer Robert M. Sanchez’s cause of death was listed as massive trauma injuries from the accident. He suffered an egregious loss of blood and multiple fractures in his torso and lower body, according to the report from the Los Angeles County coroner.
The report confirms that Sanchez, 46, had a history of diabetes, but does not indicate it was a factor in his death. Fat deposits and scarring around his heart could have caused arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeats, the report says.
There has been intense focus on Sanchez as investigators try to figure out why he failed to stop at a red signal shortly before Metrolink train No. 111 rammed head-on into a Union Pacific freight train.
Federal investigators say Sanchez sent and received dozens of text messages the day of the crash, including one just seconds before he collided with the freight train. The Times reported Wednesday that federal investigators are looking at why the red signal may not have been as clear as it should have been, although the investigation is not expected to be completed for months.
In her signed opinion on the Sanchez autopsy, Deputy Medical Examiner Lisa A. Scheinin wrote:
“The cause of death is multiple blunt force injuries. These primarily involve the torso and are rapidly fatal. Toxicology tests showed no evidence of drugs or medication. Microscopic examination showed no evidence of infectious disease. Some sections of the heart contained areas of fatty infiltration and/or fibrosis (scarring), which could possibly cause an arrhythmia. The mode of death is an accident.”
A second autopsy by a private firm was also performed on Sanchez at the request of Metrolink and his family. The results of that autopsy have not been released. Dr. Marvin Pietruszka, who performed the autopsy, declined to comment to The Times, citing privacy.
The engineer’s brother, John Sanchez, said the results of the coroner’s autopsy did not surprise him.
“Exactly what we expected,” he said. “He did not pass out, it was not drug-induced.”
John Sanchez said he had not seen the results of the second autopsy and that he regrets approving it.
“That was Metrolink’s method for bringing out more questions” about his brother, he said.
The coroner’s autopsy also includes notes that the coroner’s office took from National Transportation Safety Board investigators Dave Watson and Darryl J. Smith. Based on interviews, the coroner’s report states that " . . . The engineer of the UPRR train had engaged the emergency braking system seconds prior to the crash, while the Metrolink engineer had not.”
The coroner’s report also says that the Metrolink locomotive was pushed 54 feet into the passenger car behind it. The length of that passenger car was 89 feet. After the initial rescue attempt, the bodies of eight passengers were found by the coroner in that section of the car, which had been compressed to a space measuring 12 feet by 15 feet.
Hymon and Hennessy-Fiske are Times staff writers.
Times staff writer Rich Connell contributed to this report.
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