CHATSWORTH METROLINK DISASTER: Spokeswoman resigns

LOS ANGELES — Metrolink spokeswoman Denise Tyrrell resigned hours after she was criticized Sunday for making statements blaming La Crescenta resident Robert Sanchez in Friday’s train collision that killed 26 people, including a Glendale school counselor, and injured 138.

Tyrrell resigned after Southern California Regional Rail Authority board members said her statement Saturday was “premature” in blaming Sanchez, a contract Metrolink train engineer killed in the crash, for failing to stop at a red light.

The collision between a Union Pacific freighter and commuter train, Metrolink 111, which carried 225 passengers, occurred about 4:40 p.m. in Chatsworth. The crash was described as the worst crash in Metrolink’s history, surpassing the Jan. 26, 2005, crash in Glendale in the number of lives lost.

The crash’s death toll rose to 26 Monday after a 50-year-old man who was in critical condition was pronounced dead at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, coroner’s officials said.

Tyrrell’s comments presumed that Metrolink was responsible for the collision, said Metrolink board member and Glendale City Councilman Ara Najarian. “It is way too early to accept liability,” he said.

The Metrolink board didn’t pressure Tyrrell to resign, Najarian said, adding that he was shocked by her resignation.

“Clearly, it’s not something that the board was calling for,” he said. “We are not making her the fall guy for the crash. There is a lot of things we could have done better.”

National Transportation Safety Board investigators are looking into reports that Sanchez was exchanging text messages with two 14-year-old boys minutes before the crash in Chatsworth.

Sanchez and 55-year-old Ron Grace, a Simi Valley resident who was a counselor at Roosevelt Middle School in the Glendale Unified School District, were among the 25 people killed in the collision. Also killed were Walter Fuller, 54, of Moorpark, who was an air traffic control manager for Bob Hope Airport, Dean Brower, 51, a contract operator for the Water Reclamation Plant in Burbank, and Alan Buckley, 59, of Simi Valley who was a Burbank public works mechanic.

Two city of Glendale Public Works employees and resident Richard Slavett were injured in the crash.

Counselors and administrators Monday comforted Roosevelt Middle School students, teachers and staff members reeling from Grace’s death.

Grace worked at the middle school for 23 years as the head counselor.

He was riding the train from school to his home in Simi Valley when it crashed, a family member said.

“This loss has affected all of us deeply. . . .He has impacted thousands,” Glendale Unified trustee Greg Krikorian said.

Krikorian and other board members spent the day at the middle school providing support to teachers and students, he said.

“At this time, we are dealing with the loss of this great man,” Krikorian said.

The district is planning a “special ceremony” in memory of Grace, he said.

“The Roosevelt Roughriders will continue to ride and support the future of our kids,” he said.

Thirteen-year-old Reann De La Cruz wasn’t counseled by Grace at the middle school, but she said she was saddened by his death.

“Some people in my music class were crying because they were close to him,” the eighth-grader said. “A lot of teachers were depressed.”

Flags at the school district administration building and city buildings remained at half-staff Monday, two days after Mayor John Drayman ordered them lowered.

The flags will remain at half-staff until further notice, city spokesman Ritch Wells said.


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