Metrolink train crash: Truck driver charged with felony hit-and-run (updated)

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Three cars of a Southern California Metrolink commuter train derailed and tumbled onto their sides after a collision with a truck on tracks in Ventura County northwest of Los Angeles on Tuesday morning, sending 28 to hospitals. The driver of the truck has been arrested on suspicion of felony hit-and-run with injury.

Updates

Here's what we know: 

  • The crash happened at about a quarter to 6 a.m. at 5th and Rice in Oxnard, a crossing where at least 12 previous collisions and 2 deaths occurred.
  • The commuter train hit a truck on tracks.
  • The 54-year-old driver was found a mile away and was later arrested on suspicion of felony hit-and-run with injury.
  • 28 people were transported to five area hospitals, including two trauma centers, by 13 ambulances.
  • Injuries included spinal injuries, multiple fractures, head injuries, contusions, neck and back injuries.
  • 20 had been treated and discharged as of a 5 p.m. news conference; of the 8 remaining, 4 were in intensive care.
  • Locomotive was pushing the train; collision avoidance system worked by spreading the energy out, therefore the cars did not crumple, but did derail and spin around.
  • There have been 13 vehicle-train collisions at the same intersection since 1976, federal records show.

6:33 p.m. Rep. Julia Brownley: Crash could take up to a year to figure out cause of accident

Rep. Julia Brownley of the 26th District tells KPCC it could take an investigative team up to a year before they do a full analysis and know what caused the Metrolink crash that injured 28 people on Tuesday morning.

The congresswoman was on a plane during the accident, but spoke to the acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) about the plans for the investigation. A representative was expected to be on site during the investigation and will be updating the public. 

Brownley said that she was aware of the intersection's history and knew it was a problem. The dangerous intersection was brought up in a roundtable meeting on transportation in her district on Monday.

"I want to get to the bottom of that and see what we can do to rectify the situation," she said. 

Safety of the intersection is more about resources and doing appropriate planning to do the right grade separation, or finding a way to place cars and trains at different levels, than about a legislative solution, she said. She suggested a bridge as a possible solution, saying that it was a solution that would need more resources to make happen.  

"The problem is there is just not enough resources both  from the federal government, from the state level and the local level, and we need more resources for infrastructure improvements," Brownley said. "That's part of the problem."

She estimated the bridge would cost $35 million. 

Brownley was just appointed to be on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in Washington, D.C. in January, and she said she hopes to find more possible sources of revenue for additional resources.

 Ashley Bailey with Jennifer Velez

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Update 5:33 p.m. Truck driver arrested on suspicion of felony hit-and-run

The driver of the truck that drove onto tracks and was hit by a Metrolink train Tuesday morning has been arrested on felony hit-and-run charges, Oxnard Police spokesman Jason Benites announced at a 5 p.m. press conference.

Authorities have identified the truck driver as Jose Alejandro Sanchez Ramirez.

"Safe to say it was not a deliberate act," Benites said. However, it was classified as a hit-and-run due to Ramirez being found 1.6 miles away, having left the scene on foot.

Of the 28 people who were hospitalized following the train crash, 20 have been released, officials said. Of the eight remaining in the hospital, four were in the intensive care unit.

A Metrolink spokesman said that there was video that would be used in the investigation. He said that the engineer remained in critical condition.

The driver's produce truck didn't have produce in it at the time of the crash, Benites said. It was a work vehicle.

Bianca Ramirez & Brian Watt with Jennifer Velez and KPCC staff

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Update 4:22 p.m. 1 of 4 Metrolink train cars didn't have collision-resistant crumple zones

The Metrolink train had four train cars begin pushed by a locomotive at the rear. The first, second and fourth cars were the new collision-resistant cars added since 2010. Those cars have the crumple zones to absorb the energy of a crash. 

The third car in the train was an older model retrofitted to carry 9 or 18 bicycles along with passengers. It lacked the crumple zones, said Metrolink spokesman Jeff Lustgarten. He said it was up to the NTSB to determine how many of the injured passengers were in which type of car. The bike cars in the Metrolink system had received some safety upgrades, including the installation of breakaway tables at passenger seats.

Cuong Trinh, a member of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, is an advocate for greater access of cyclists and bikes to Metrolink trains. He said some of the bike trains have room for 9 bicycles and seating for passengers on the bottom and top decks of the car, while other trains have room for 18 bikes and seating only on the top deck. He said he knew those bike cars did not have the same collision-resistant design as the newer cars, but said it did not influence his choice of where to sit.

"I sit wherever I can find a seat facing to the rear of the train," he said. 

Metrolink is in the process of installing a system that uses GPS, computers and various kinds of monitors to remotely slow and halt a train in risky situations, but it’s not in place yet. It’s supposed to be rolled out later this year on the San Bernardino portion of the Metrolink system. Regardless, that $210 million system would not have prevented Tuesday's crash, because it does not have sensors to detect objects on the track, Lustgarten said.

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Update 2:17 p.m. 2 deaths previously occurred in 2014 crash at same intersection 

A 19-year-old and a 20-year-old died in an accident involving an Amtrak train at 7:23 p.m. on June 3, 2014 at the Rice Road crossing, the same crossing as Tuesday's crash, according to an incident report from the Federal Railroad Administration.

The accident was one of at least 13 vehicle-train collisions at that intersection since 1976, according to Federal Railroad Administration incident reports.

Details of the 2014 accident, according to the incident report from the Federal Railroad Administration:

  • A car-versus-train accident occurred at 7:23 p.m. on June 3, 2014.
  • At least one of the vehicles was traveling at an estimated speed of 80 mph at the time of collision.
  • The train consisted of two locomotive units and 11 cars.
  • The crossing had gates and other controls.
  • Two were killed.
  • The driver's age was 20.
  • There were 107 people on the train; there were no injuries reported among the passengers.

Watch video from KPCC media partner NBC L.A. showing a previous incident from 2005:

Amtrak train hits crush

On June 12, 1998, a collision at the same rail crossing killed a 30-year-old female pedestrian, according to an incident report from the Federal Railroad Administration. This crash happened about 8:17 a.m. Further information regarding this fatality wasn't immediately available.

- KPCC Staff with Chris Keller

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Update 12:42 p.m. Driver being interviewed by police, 13 people remain hospitalized 

Oxnard police have identified the truck driver involved in the Metrolink train crash as a 54-year-old produce driver from Arizona. He was not injured, but was taken to a local hospital for observation.

A preliminary assessment of the collision shows the produce driver headed south on Rice Avenue and meant to take a right turn on 5th Street, but instead turned onto the railroad tracks and the vehicle got stuck, Oxnard Police Department Field Services Bureau Chief Jason Benites said at a press conference. 

The driver was described as being "cooperative." 

Thirteen people are still being treated in the emergency room of Oxnard-area hospitals; eight have been discharged. A total of 50 people were treated for injuries early Tuesday, officials said.

The injuries include spinal injuries, multiple fractures, head injuries, contusions and neck and back injuries.

The NTSB is en route to the scene and will be the lead agency on the investigation. Metrolink is not "at liberty to discuss any details with this incident," a spokesperson said. 

- KPCC Staff

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Update 11:55 a.m. Metrolink crash the second in same location

The Metrolink train runs along E. 5th Street in Oxnard for several miles on its daily commuter runs between Burbank and Oxnard, sharing tracks with Amtrak trains. 

Tuesday's crash appears to be the second in recent years in the same location.

A Metrolink train carrying 55 passengers hit the back of an empty truck trailer in a similar accident in March 2008 at 5th and Rice. The train, heading inbound to Los Angeles from Ventura, was in push mode, with the locomotive behind a line of passenger cars. One train passenger was injured in that incident.

There have been 11 train-vehicle injury collisions in Ventura County in the ten years ending in 2012, including fatal collisions in 2003 and 2005, according to California Highway Patrol data. It is not clear from the data which train operator was involved in those incidents.

Train collisions with vehicles statewide that resulted in injuries appear to have fallen significantly since 2003, according to data collected by the California Highway Patrol.

In the 10 years ending in 2012, there were 753 train-vehicle collisions that resulted in injuries. The highest annual total was in 2003 with 93 crashes, with numbers dropping to a low of 56 in 2012.

Those numbers come from the CHP's Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System and the Safe Transportation Research and Education Center at UC Berkeley.

Train vehicle collisions resulting in injuries in California 2003-2012

Year Total
2003 93
2004 87
2005 82
2006 69
2007 85
2008 81
2009 66
2010 68
2011 66
2012 56

Of 753 train-vehicle collisions in California in the ten years ending in 2012, 120 involved fatal injuries. In all, 139 people have died in such collisions.

Fatal  train-vehicle collisions in California 2003-2012

Year Total
2003 19
2004 11
2005 9
2006 16
2007 18
2008 10
2009 13
2010 5
2011 11
2012 8

Sharon McNary & Chris Keller

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Update 10:21 a.m. How the crash's impact was absorbed

The passenger cars were being pushed by a locomotive at the time of the crash and one of the those cars was the first to hit the truck. But Metrolink officials said the impact of the crash was muted by new rail cars that employ special energy absorption technology.

The system uses a compression bumper and pushback coupler on the front of the car. Those are meant to compress on impact to help keep the train car on the tracks. A rigid coupler would be more likely to buckle and derail the car.
 

(Click on the photo to enlarge.)

http://a.scpr.org/i/475aa9890ac7067936f0d76b828e4ad9/100678-full.jpg


The trains also have compression zones in the back that are designed to absorb, balance and dissipate the energy from an impact. That creates a crumple zone but the car stays intact.

Metrolink was the first passenger rail line in the nation to begin using the Crash Energy Management system. The first two rail cars equipped with the new energy absorption system were added to Metrolink’s system in 2010, with some 117 total cars ordered from a South Korea manufacturer. The cars undergo final assembly at Metrolink’s Eastern Maintenance Facility in Colton. 

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, a separate agency that runs light rail and buses in Los Angeles County, sent six buses out to the crash site to help ferry the train passengers to their next stop.

- Sharon McNary/KPCC

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Update 9:44 a.m. The NTSB to investigate incident

The National Transportation Safety Board is sending a multidisciplinary team of rail experts and engineers to the Metrolink crash site, Robert Sumwalt NTSB board member said in a press conference. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SA-JZi8HMhQ

In addition to the Washington, D.C. team, an NTSB Western division group was also on their way to investigate the grade crossing incident. They will be looking into highway factors, human performance and survivability. 

Sumwalt said there are 2,000 rail crossing accidents in the U.S. each year, 250 are fatal. This is the second launch of an investigation team in three weeks.

- KPCC Staff

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Update 8:50 a.m. 28 people hospitalized

Twenty-eight people have been transported to hospitals, Captain Mike Lindbery, Ventura County Fire Department PIO, told KPCC. An additional 23 people, who are considered to be non-injured,  are being taken on buses to take to safe area to be interviewed and then released. 

Four people were critically injured, Oxnard Fire Department officials said in a press conference. The injuries ranged from extremity injuries to normal injuries.

The driver of the truck was apprehended by law enforcement less than a mile from the scene, Lindbery said. 

Metrolink cab cars have Collision Energy Management technology following the Chatsworth and Glendale incidents, Scott Johnson, spokesman for Metrolink said. If a collision occurs, the energy of that collision would occur outward to avoid crumpling of the cars.

https://twitter.com/NTSB/status/570255375943004162

- KPCC Staff

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Update 7:32 a.m. Collision prompts derailment

Dozens of people have been injured in the crash of a Southern California commuter train and a truck northwest of Los Angeles.

Metrolink spokesman Scott Johnson tells the Los Angeles Times at least 30 people were injured in the crash early Tuesday.

The collision has toppled three of the train's passenger cars onto their sides. A fourth car is derailed but remains upright, along with the engine.

The scene is in Oxnard, about 65 miles northwest of Los Angeles. 

Map: Metrolink in Oxnard

The map above shows where the incident happened.

- AP

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Update 6:52 a.m. Metrolink train strikes truck near Oxnard, up to 30 injuries

Three cars of a Southern California Metrolink commuter train have derailed and tumbled onto their sides after a collision with a truck on tracks in Ventura County northwest of Los Angeles.

Oxnard police Sgt. Denise Shadinger says the crash reported at 5:44 a.m. Tuesday caused a number of injuries.

Shadinger says the truck became fully engulfed in flames.

 

A KABC-TV news helicopter is showing firefighters treating numerous people at the scene.

Metrolink's website says the train was on a run from Ventura County to Los Angeles. 

The VC Line Metrolink/Amtrak shared train 761 to Oxnard and the VC Line 104 is canceled for today due to the incident, according to the transportation agency.

 For travel advisories, check Metrolink's alert and service advisories.  

- KPCC Staff with AP

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This post will be updated as we get more information.

Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly said that the driver of the truck was arrested. At the time, he had been apprehended but not placed under arrest. KPCC regrets the error.

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