Recalling the lives lost

Metrolink crash survivors and family members of the victims gathered to pay tribute to loved ones who lost their lives and those who responded to help, during a memorial dedication on Sunday in Atwater Village.

Glendale Mayor Dave Weaver and Los Angeles County officials, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, unveiled a memorial located on the corner of Los Feliz Place and Seneca Avenue, across from the Costco parking lot.

"There are definitely moments in history that nobody will forget," Weaver said. "Regardless of what your feelings and thoughts were that day, you pulled together as a community."

On Jan. 26, 2005, a Metrolink train traveling south to Union Station on a center track derailed after it plowed into a Jeep Cherokee SUV.

That train then collided with a parked Union Pacific train that sent the cab car into another Metrolink train traveling northbound, pushing the train off its tracks and into the Costco parking lot.

The accident killed 11 and injured nearly 200 train commuters.

The Atwater Village Neighborhood Council proposed to install a memorial near the scene of the accident more than a year ago, said Ken Osborn, co-chair of the council.

"We knew we had to do something," Osborn said. "We have had a lot of knowledgeable people who have given us support. It was a unanimous decision."

On Sunday, the mood was somber as dozens came to see the 2-foot-high stone slab monument.

Crash survivor Robert Janovici came with his wife and children to the memorial dedication.

"I just wanted to remember what happened," Janovici, a Northridge resident, said. "I had to retire because of the accident."

Janovici, then a chief zoning administrator for the city of Los Angeles, lost a kidney and suffered brain damage after the accident, said his wife, Susan Janovici.

He spent about six months in the hospital, she said.

"It's been really very difficult," said Susan Janovici, as she held back tears. "Life has changed. It's been very hard emotionally. We'll do anything to pay tribute. I certainly want to thank the people who helped."

Simi Valley resident Joan Gustafson also came to take part in the ceremony.

Gustafson was riding the train to work to downtown Los Angeles when the accident occurred.

"I was in the front car that hit everything," she said. "I went flying across the train."

Gustafson broke her arm on impact and received lacerations to her legs, she said.

"I was very lucky," Gustafson said. "I thank God everyday that I'm here."

After the officials addressed the crowd, Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti read the names of the 11 victims and the original 13 first responders of the accident scene.

Karen Mendoza, a Covina resident, was one of the 13 Costco employees who took action after the crash.

"At that time, I didn't know it was an awful accident," Mendoza said. "We just knew something bad had happened."

Mendoza was the first person at the store to call 911, she said.

"We tried to help out," Mendoza said. "We pulled bodies from the wreckage and guided people away from the fire."

Since the accident, Mendoza's perspective on life has changed, she said.

"You are reminded that you have to live life to the fullest," she said.

As the dedication concluded, the crowd observed two minutes of silence.

 


  • ANI AMIRKHANIAN is a news assistant. She may be reached at (818) 637-3230 or by e-mail at ani.amirkhanianlatimes.com.
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