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Lawyers blame engineer in 2005 Metrolink train crash

Los Angeles Times
Robert J. Lopez
January 29, 2009

Attorneys representing victims of a 2005 Metrolink train crash that killed 11 said this morning that they have uncovered new evidence that they believe shows the engineer was at fault for the accident.

The crash — the second-deadliest in Metrolink history behind last September’s incident in Chatsworth — happened in the Glendale area after a train slammed into a sport-utility vehicle that had been left on the tracks.

The engineer noticed the reflection of the vehicle when he was about three-quarters of a mile away, but he waited until he was only 800 feet from the point of impact before applying the train’s emergency brakes, according to attorneys.

“He was duty-bound under the rules of Metrolink to put his train in emergency [braking],” attorney Jerome Ringler told reporters at a news conference. “Had he done so, there would have been no derailment.”

Ringler said his accusation is corroborated by data from the train’s event recorder box.

A spokesman for Metrolink, citing the pending civil case, said the agency had no comment on the allegations.

The driver of the sport-utility vehicle, Juan Manuel Alvarez, was convicted of murder and sentenced in August to 11 consecutive life terms. Prosecutors argued that Alvarez had intended to kill passengers in a twisted effort to gain attention from his estranged wife.

Ringler and attorney Brian Panish have filed a negligence lawsuit on behalf of a dozen victims against Metrolink. The case is scheduled to be heard in June in Superior Court.

Panish said operator error was a factor in the Glendale-area crash and the Chatsworth catastrophe that killed 25.

Federal safety investigators have said that preliminary evidence shows that the engineer in the Chatsworth crash sent and received dozens of text messages while on duty the day of the accident. The multi-agency probe, being led by the National Transportation Safety Board, is expected to take months to complete.

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