Trial Begins for Man Accused of Causing Fatal Metrolink Crash

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Attorneys gave opening statements Monday in the trial of Juan Alvarez. He's accused of causing the deadly Glendale train crash three years ago when he parked his SUV on the tracks. A Metrolink train hit the vehicle and derailed and then collided with another train heading the other way. Eleven people died. KPCC's Brian Watt listened in as the prosecution and defense outlined their cases at the Criminal Courts Building in downtown Los Angeles.

Brian Watt: Prosecutors say on a January morning three years ago, Juan Alvarez clearly wanted to derail a Metrolink train and kill people. Deputy District Attorney John Monaghan told the jury the evidence would show that Alvarez drove his Jeep onto the tracks, doused the vehicle's interior with gasoline, then left it.

John Monaghan: In effect, Mr. Alvarez used Metrolink 100 as a match to light his vehicle on fire.

Watt: The crash killed 11 people, but Juan Alvarez and his attorneys maintain that he was only trying to kill himself. They portrayed Alvarez as a methamphetamine addict who got more psychotic the more drugs he used. Alvarez, they said, thought the CIA was following him.

They say he heard voice of his wife who'd obtained a restraining order against him, and the voice of her imaginary lover. Defense attorney Thomas Kielty pointed out that Alvarez "never imagined" his Jeep could derail a train, and tried to move the vehicle off the tracks before the crash happened. Kielty said Alvarez was so upset after the crash that he tried to stab himself to death with a pair of scissors.

Thomas Kielty: If he hadn't been out there, if he hadn't foolishly put his Jeep on those tracks, none of this would have happened. That doesn't mean he's the legal cause. But he set in motion the chain of events.

Watt: The audience in the courtroom included relatives of some of the Metrolink passengers who died in the crash. A few of them gasped quietly as the prosecution showed photos of their loved ones in life, followed by often gruesome photos of their bodies after the crash. Alvarez is on trial for eleven counts of murder. If he's convicted, prosecutors plan to ask for the death penalty.