Attorneys argue about language

LOS ANGELES — A Superior Court judge and attorneys Tuesday went over the language in a jury statement that will be read to potential jurors as they prepare for the trial in a class-action lawsuit regarding the January 2005 Metrolink train derailment in Glendale that killed 11 people.

Judge Emilie Elias will read the statement, which briefly explains the case and role of a jury, to potential jurors at the June 8 jury selection hearing at Central Civil West Court.

Attorneys representing Metrolink and those representing the victims of the derailment argued about whether language in the statement should say that Juan Manuel Alvarez was convicted of first-degree murder or just murder.

The statement will describe Alvarez’s conviction as first-degree murder.

Alvarez, a Compton resident, parked his Jeep Cherokee on the Metrolink tracks near Chevy Chase Drive, close to the Glendale-Los Angeles border, on Jan. 26, 2005, causing the train to derail and crash.

Eleven passengers on two commuter trains were killed, and nearly 200 others were injured in the derailment.

Alvarez was convicted in June for causing the deadly train derailment and sentenced Aug. 20 in criminal court to serve 11 consecutive life sentences in prison.

Passengers injured in the crash and family members of those killed filed a wrongful-death and personal injury lawsuit against Metrolink after the crash.

The plaintiffs, in their class-action suit, claimed that the train’s “push-pull” operating system was potentially dangerous and contributed to the accident.

The “push” mode of train operation refers to when the train’s engine is in the rear of the train, pushing it from the back; the “pull” mode is when the engine is pulling the train from the front.

The lawsuit argues that the push-pull system failed to prevent the crash.

Earlier this year, Metrolink went to the state court of appeals to find out whether the allegation had merit, and the court ruled that the plaintiffs couldn’t argue that the railroad authority’s practice was negligent.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Elias assured attorneys that the statement will not be used to replace any evidence that is presented during the trial.

Alvarez will not be a witness for the defense during the trial, Metrolink attorney James Wakefield told Elias.

Attorney Jerry Ringler, who represents the victims, won’t ask Alvarez to testify, he said.

 VERONICA ROCHA covers public safety and the courts. She may be reached at (818) 637-3232 or by e-mail at

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