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Decision on Criminal Charges in Metrolink Crash Expected Tomorrow, District Attorney Says

Metropolitan News-Enterprise
Staff and Wire Service Reports
January 27, 2005

District Attorney Steve Cooley said yesterday he expects a decision by tomorrow on charges a man could face for a derailment-crash that killed 10 people and injured scores, some of them critically.

Authorities said the crash involving two Metrolink trains and a Union Pacific freight train locomotive was caused by a suicide-bent man who got his Jeep Cherokee stuck on a stretch of track, then fled after changing his mind.

Juan Manuel Alvarez, 25, of Compton, was arrested on suspicion of murder, said Glendale police Chief Randy Adams.

“When the criminal investigation is completed and a case presented to this office, it is anticipated a charging decision will be made by Friday morning,” according to a statement Cooley issued this afternoon.

The district attorney said his office is offering “both legal and investigative assistance to law enforcement agencies following today’s tragic train derailment.”

At what is now a crime scene, Cooley told reporters that the suspect’s “state of mind” and “intent” will be central legal issues.

“There are a number of facts that have to be ascertained, and the most significant facts from the standpoint of what charges are filed relate to the intent of the individual who may be responsible for the multiple deaths that have occurred and the injuries that have occurred,” the county’s top prosecutor said.

“The intent is always a critical element in fashioning the appropriate charge,” Cooley said. “… The state of mind of the suspect is a central issue, what led him to do whatever acts he did do that resulted in these many deaths and injury to the innocent people.”

The district attorney said the state of mind issue “must be resolved” and it could be done “by talking to the individual if he’s available to talk to and is willing to talk to law enforcement, and by examining the facts that surround the acts that he committed.”

The Glendale police chief said Alvarez has “been cooperative” with investigators.

Glendale police, the sheriff’s homicide bureau and the National Transportation Safety Board are involved in investigating the disaster- the worst in the history of the Metrolink system that began operating in Oct. 26, 1992.

Patrick Dixon, head of the District Attorney’s Major Crimes Division, also was at the crime scene “to offer assistance as needed,” said Jane Robison of the District Attorney’s Office.

While officials determine what criminal charges to file, it is likely that civil lawsuits will also result from the crash. “I would anticipate that there will be a number of civil suits filed in the coming months,” Kevin Boyle… said yesterday.

Reports that Alvarez drove his Jeep Cherokee onto the railroad track in a possible suicide attempt would focus liability on that individual, Boyle said, but added it was “doubtful that he had ample insurance to cover the damage he caused.”

Because plaintiffs have to file claims against government entities within six months of an injury to protect their rights to seek damages, Boyle-whose firm has handled a number of train wreck cases-said he expects claims will be presented to the Southern California Regional Rail Authority, which operates Metrolink, before the crash investigation is completed.

Metrolink has a general duty to make all crossings safe and not to hit something on the tracks, Boyle said, so the question will be whether the commuter train exercised reasonable care to avoid obstructions on the tracks and to make the crossings safe.

Boyle pointed out that no one has sufficient information to determine liability at this stage, and that everyone has questions regarding the crash that will need answers, including how long the vehicle was on the tracks, what was the line of sight for the train, and whether the emergency brake was applied.

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