Jurors visit train wreckage

NORTHWEST GLENDALE — Jurors on Wednesday visited the mangled wreckage and charred remains of four Metrolink train cars at the heart of the case against Juan Manuel Alvarez, as the penalty phase against the day laborer continued for a third day.

The viewing was proposed by prosecutors who wanted to give jurors a more intimate look at the damaged train cars that they heard about during the eight-week trial, officials said.

Alvarez, who opted to remain in his Men’s County Jail cell in Los Angeles during the jury viewing, was convicted of 11 counts of first-degree murder on June 26 for parking his Jeep Cherokee on a set of Metrolink tracks 125 feet from the Chevy Chase Drive crossing in Glendale.

Jurors were accompanied by a slew of officials and attorneys, including deputies with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, two Glendale arson investigators, officers with the Glendale Police Department and two pool reporters who traveled with jurors from downtown Los Angeles.

That scene included four rail cars and the rusted, burnt undercarriage of the lead car that caught fire after hitting Alvarez’s gasoline soaked sport utility vehicle on the day of the incident.

Jurors were able to peer into the broken windows, view the dangling wires and look at the upturned seats and contorted metal of the trains that have been sitting on an empty concrete lot near San Fernando Boulevard, covered in blue tarps and relatively unscathed since the Jan. 26, 2005, incident.

The front-page of a newspaper from that morning could be seen resting on the floor of one of the rail cars, a headline reading: “Economy to Improve Modestly.”

As helicopters buzzed in the sky, jurors were able to take in a scene that was largely unchanged from the day of incident, said pool reporter Miriam Hernandez, with KABC-TV.

“They peered through the window where they could see the debris from that day,” Hernandez said. “They saw coffee cups. They saw a copy of the L.A. Times from that day. They saw material from Metrolink that encouraged more passengers to ride the train.”

Shortly after 6 a.m. on the day of the incident, Metrolink train No. 100 slammed into the SUV that Alvarez had jumped from minutes before impact. The careening train jumped the main railroad track and slid down a side track as sparks jumped from the chassis of the lead rail car. The fiery train No. 100 then struck a parked Union Pacific freight train and jackknifed into the oncoming Metrolink train No. 901.

Ten passengers and one crew member died and more than 180 were injured in the collision that Metrolink described as the worst incident in its history.

Alvarez, 29, was arrested shortly after the incident and has remained in custody without bail.

Jurors had initially requested to view the rail cars a day before they rendered a verdict.

But shortly after 11 a.m. June 26, jurors announced they had reached a decision, finding Alvarez guilty of all 11 murder counts and one count of arson.

They found him not guilty of the train wrecking charge and opened the door for prosecutors to seek the death penalty after the nine-woman, three-man panel found Alvarez guilty of a special circumstance charge of multiple murders.

The trial shifted to the penalty phase Monday and is expected to continue through the week. Jurors will then recommend either a life without the possibility of parole sentence or the death penalty.

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